Joint Wills vs. Mutual Wills: What is the Difference?

The importance of having a will at the time of your death cannot be understated. If you die intestate (i.e. without having a will), all of your property will go to whoever the court decides should receive it.

With that said, there are numerous types of wills available. For married couples, two types of wills that come up in discussion are joint wills and mutual wills. While similar, these two types of wills are not exactly the same thing, which is covered in further detail below.

What is a Joint Will?

A joint will is a singular will that is signed by two or more people. This document serves as the last will and testament for all of the parties that sign it. In many instances, a joint will is created and executed by a married couple who share both assets and beneficiaries. When one partner dies, the estate passes on to the other, and subsequently, when the other partner passes away, the estate will be distributed based upon the terms agreed to by both parties.

What are Mutual Wills?

As mentioned above, while the two types of wills are similar in nature, mutual wills are not the exact same thing as a joint will.

Mutual wills are typically two separate wills that are identical to each other. These wills are supported by a separate document that ensures the surviving partner will have the estate properly distributed upon their death. In essence, mutual wills are similar to joint wills, except that there are different documents rather than a singular document.

What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of a Joint Will?

Much like any other type of will, joint wills come with advantages and disadvantages. Ultimately, only you can decide what works for your particular situation. The following are some of the advantages and disadvantages of joint wills:


  • Allows married couples to simplify the process of having a will
  • Prevents any one party from having total control


  • Becomes irrevocable when one partner dies
  • Limits the decision making abilities of a surviving partner


Having a joint will allows married couples to simplify the will process, so long as both partners share the same assets and beneficiaries. A joint will can simplify the distribution of your estate if you and your partner are in complete agreement on how the estate should be distributed.

Additionally, a joint will prevents any one party from having total control. For example, one partner cannot simply decide to make changes to the will if conflict arises, as both partners would need to be in agreement on any modifications.


There are some disadvantages to joint wills as well. A joint will becomes irrevocable when one partner dies, meaning that once the first partner passes away, no changes can be made to the will or the manner in which the estate is distributed.

As a consequence, this limits the decision making abilities of a surviving partner. For example, if the joint will calls for leaving your house to one of your children, but you find yourself in a situation where selling the house would be beneficial, you are not permitted to sell the house due to the terms of the joint will.

If you are looking to create or update your estate plan, we are here to help. Contact us today to learn more about our services.

For more information about various estate planning and elder law topics, view our resources page here. On this page, you will find our previous blog articles, newsletters and our informative webinar series.

Image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

About the Author

Alyssa Marie Monteleon, Esq.

Alyssa Marie Monteleon is an elder law and estate planning attorney at the Monteleon Law Group, PLLC with offices in New York and Virginia. For more information, please visit or call (914) 840-2529.

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