DEAR JEFF: My wife and I have been married for five years. I’m 66 and she is 62 years old. I had a will before we married, but now feel the need for another.

My question is this: If we prepare joint wills, leaving our estate to the other at one of our deaths, can either of us go and have that will modified or changed without the other spouse’s written consent? We both have property before our marriage, and just want to know if a joint will is the “way to go”? Thanks, “Joint Will or Not”

Dear “Joint Will”: The situation and the concern you describe is very common. The short answer to your question is: Yes, one spouse can alter his or her will without the knowledge of the other one. This, in effect, can lead to the disinheriting of stepchildren in cases of second or subsequent marriages.

The solution is to have a Living Trust prepared. In a Living Trust, the document (and the ownership of the trust property) is amendable and revocable as long as both spouses are alive. However, upon the death of one spouse, the trust becomes irrevocable. This preserves assets for the children of the deceased spouse.

In addition to the trust, each spouse also would have a “pour over” will prepared that leaves everything that is not already in the trust to the trust itself as beneficiary. If properly done and adhered to, the probate of the pour over will is not necessary. It is simply a safety net.

DEAR JEFF: It seems like criminal juries give out strange sentences. Sometimes they let people off with a slap on the wrist, other times they get the maximum sentence, other times they let people go scot-free. I would like to know what is going on in the jury room. How can I get a copy of the transcript from the jury deliberations? Thanks, “Somebody’s Got To Pay”

Dear “Somebody”: The right to a trial by jury and the sanctity of the jury room is considered one of the most fundamental rights we have as citizens. Because of this, it is illegal to have any sort of recording or transcript of what happens during jury deliberations.

Jurors are given the opportunity to speak freely while deliberating, and place importance on whatever evidence they deem crucial to a case. If the nature of the deliberations were to be made public, this independence would cease to exist.

Jeffrey Bates is licensed to practice law in the State of Texas, but is not board certified in any area of specialty by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.

This column is meant for general information and educational purposes only, and neither this column nor the transmittal of a legal question via email constitutes the creation of an attorney/client relationship between the reader and Jeffrey Bates and/or Southern Newspapers Inc. For specific advice regarding legal matters affecting you, consult an attorney.

To submit a question, send it via email to JeffreyPBates@aol.com, or via regular mail to Ask the Lawyer, 101 S. First St., Lufkin 75901, or call 639-2900.

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