Senior America's Information Magazine

 

The "Reciprocal" Will

An introduction to reciprocal wills

A reciprocal will is what most married couples first think of when they start talking about creating a will. With a reciprocal will, each spouse's Will is a "mirror image" of the other. If the combined estates of both spouses total under federal maximum, this may be all you need. 

This kind of Will provides as follows:

  1. Naming of Executor - usually the spouse, but there should be an alternate, too.

  2. Payment of debts and taxes. 

  3. Specific bequests of tangible property, e.g., "Little Bobbie gets my Beatles collection." (What happens if the collection is sold before death? Does Bobbie get the cash equivalent instead? Generally not, under state law. But will Bobbie want to argue about it anyway?) 
TIP: Avoid disputes by adding the simple words, "....... if owned by me at my death." Then, it is clear there is no bequest at all, unless the property is still owned by the Testator when he dies.
  1. Disposition of the remainder ("residue") of property. 
    This consists of everything that remains after steps 1 through 3, above. 

Usually, people want it this way: "If I die first, everything goes to my spouse. If my spouse has already died, all to my descendants, in equal shares, per stirpes." (Latin for, "If a child dies before the parent, that child's children split the share.") The Wills are mirror-images of each other.

People often ask what happens if a beneficiary of a specific sum or item under their Will dies before they do. It is difficult to give a short, general answer - but the situation can lead to a dispute, unless the Testator (Will maker) plans for it. 

he best solution to this potential problem is simply for the Will maker to name a contingent beneficiary, in case the primary beneficiary does not survive the Will maker. 

Alternatively, the Testator can specify that if a beneficiary fails to survive, his/her share or item is to be included and distributed with the "residue" of the estate. 

<<More on wills


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