Making a Will is one of the most important things you will do in your life, as it ensures that when you pass away, your wishes are fulfilled and your estate is passed on to the beneficiary or beneficiaries of your choice.
Mirror Wills are identical Wills made by two people, usually a married couple or a couple in a civil partnership, that leave everything to each other or their children. They are popular because they provide a simple and cost-effective way of creating a Will, when a couple has similar wishes on how they want their estate to be distributed once they pass away.
E.g. Mr Jones’ Will may read: ‘I wish to leave everything to my wife on death, but if she dies before me I wish to leave everything to my children.’
And Mrs Jones’ Will may read: ‘I wish to leave everything to my husband on death, but if he dies before me I wish to leave everything to my children.’
Many people assume that their wishes will be honoured upon their death, however Mirror Wills have some disadvantages and so it’s important to know the facts and to seek legal advice to choose the best Will for your circumstances.
Benefits of Mirror Wills
The main advantage of Mirror Wills is that if a couple has similar wishes about what happens to their estate when they pass away, then they are quick and easy to set up. This is because although two legal documents are drawn up, they are almost identical in every way. This makes Mirror Wills more affordable than drawing up two entirely separate Wills.
Mirror Wills are not entirely identical. A couple may have similar wishes, but each person can stipulate their own preference for who they’d like to appoint as their executors, trustees or guardians. This can be an ideal choice for couples who want to leave assets to children from previous relationships or marriages.
Complications of Mirror Wills
People are often mistaken in thinking that their wishes will be honoured when they die, however Mirror Wills can be changed at any time, without the other person knowing. For example, if one person in a couple passes away and the survivor remarries, they can change their Will and leave everything to their new spouse, rather than their children.
Mirror Wills can also be changed when both partners are still alive. The Wills are not legally linked so if one person changes their Will, the other person does not legally need to be notified. Although a couple’s wishes may be the same, their respective Wills are theirs alone to alter as they choose.
Complications can also arise if children remarry, get a divorce or encounter financial difficulties, as sometimes this can mean assets pass sideways outside of the family.
People also don’t take into account what happens to their estate if their surviving partner ends up needing care later in life. Under the Community Care Act of 1993, the Local Authority has the power to use peoples’ finances and assets to pay for their care. This means that should one person die and then the other becomes ill and requires care, their children may not benefit from the estate.
Avoiding the complications caused by Mirror Wills
If a couple’s assets include property, then one of the easiest ways to avoid complications caused by Mirror Wills, is to make sure that they are ‘tenants in common’ rather than ‘joint tenants’. As ‘joint tenants’, where one person passes away, the other will still be entitled to 100% of the property immediately without the need for the property to pass through the deceased’s estate.
By becoming ‘tenants in common’, each person owns a 50% share of the property that they can leave to whoever they like. If each person leaves their share of the property to their children or grandchildren in their Will, then the survivor can remain living at the property after their partner’s death and should they need care later in life, the Local Authority can usually only take fees from their 50% share of the property.
There are alternatives to Mirror Wills such as Mutual Wills, which are similar to Mirror Wills, with the added caveat that they cannot be changed without mutual agreement of both parties.
Creating a trust within a Will and appointing a trustee(s) to look after assets can help ensure that your estate gets passed on to the named beneficiaries.
Although creating trusts in a Will may be a little more complex, it is worth it in the long run, as it makes passing on estates when someone passes away a much simpler process.
Get expert advice on Will writing
Mirror Wills most certainly have some advantages and it is always better to have a Will than no Will at all. However, there are several things to consider to ensure Mirror Wills suit you so it is best to seek legal advice to find the best solution for you and your circumstances.
At Bird & Co, our expert team can help guide you through the Will writing process and ensure your wishes are carried out. For advice call 01476 372 046 or fill in the enquiry form at the top of this page.