Mirror wills allow you to make a joint decision as to how your estates should pass and who should ultimately benefit
If you are married, in a civil partnership or cohabiting with a long term partner, and thinking of making or updating your will, you may have heard the expression ‘mirror wills’ and wonder if this would be suitable for you.
‘Mirror wills are wills made by two or more people in identical or very similar terms – effectively mirroring each other’s arrangements,’ explains Bridget Thorpe, a Solicitor in the wills and probate team with Rotherham, South Yorkshire.
‘For many couples, mirror wills may be the most appropriate option for your needs, but you should always check with a legal professional as some circumstances might mean that mirror wills are not the best approach for you.’
What are mirror wills?
Mirror wills are used to ensure that everything you own passes according to the shared wishes of both parties.
Most commonly, mirror wills are written in identical terms so that on the death of either one of you any sole or joint assets pass to your jointly chosen beneficiaries in the same way. Each will might sometimes include separate small gifts, such as personal items or gifts of low monetary value, and these gifts may not be identical in both wills.
How are mirror wills used?
A typical set up for mirror wills is for everything to pass to the surviving partner, and then after they die everything will pass to those people or charities that you both chose together. This might include your own children or grandchildren, members of your respective families, or any joint friends or charities that are close to your hearts.
Before making mirror wills, it is important to fully discuss your wishes together to ensure that you are both completely happy with the decisions made as regards who should receive what.
Mirror wills are particularly useful for those in second marriages or with children from previous relationships, as they help to ensure that both sides of the family are treated fairly and equally.
If you decide to make separate wills and you do not mirror your wishes, any money or property passing to the survivor after the first death, will then ultimately pass according only to their wishes.
Advantages of mirror wills
Mirror wills are useful to protect the interests of the survivor as well as the remaining family of the first person to die, for example:
· If you have children from a previous relationship, and you and your partner make separate wills leaving everything to each other initially then everything to only your own biological children after the second death, the entire wealth of the first person to die would pass to the survivor and then onto the survivor’s children only, therefore leaving the children of the first person to die without any inheritance.
· Alternatively, you may think it appropriate to make sole wills stating that everything passes to your respective children as soon as you die, however this could leave the surviving partner without sufficient funds for the rest of their life.
By contrast, mirror wills allow you to specify that everything should pass to each other initially but then to all of your children equally on the second death. This means that the survivor does not miss out on vital funds and that all of your children are treated fairly in due course.
For married couples and those in a civil partnership, mirror wills are also likely to be beneficial for the purpose of inheritance tax, as including each other as beneficiaries initially allows you to take advantage of the tax free allowances available.
Disadvantages of mirror wills
If you retain completely separate finances and do not rely on one another financially, mirror wills may not be for you. If one of you has your own business which does not involve the other, you need to provide for your co-owners – otherwise the shareholder agreement or partnership agreement might conflict with the benefit of making mirror wills. However you should always seek advice from a professional to help you understand the full implications of making separate wills.
Whilst mirror wills are often the most advantageous choice for couples, they do not come with any assurance that the survivor will not change their will, make a new will, or remarry following the first death.
Before making your mirror wills, it is imperative that you completely trust one another to stick by any joint decisions you make once one of you is no longer alive. As there is no legal obligation on the survivor to retain the terms of the mirror wills, they could simply make a new will leaving everything to beneficiaries of their own choosing, such as their own biological children. As such, mirror wills might not be suitable if there is any element of distrust or if your families do not get along, depending on the severity of the familial disagreement. There are alternative options available in these circumstances, so you should seek professional advice to make the appropriate choice for your needs.
It is also important to note that any later marriage or civil partnership would automatically revoke the survivor’s will. As such, your jointly chosen beneficiaries could miss out even if this is not the survivor’s intention. If the survivor does remarry, they should seek legal advice to ensure that their will continues to accurately reflect your joint wishes.
How can we help?
Mirror wills are often a good option, but this is dependent on your individual circumstances, and you should seek legal advice before making any new will.
Our solicitors can guide you through the process, ensure you are fully informed and help you to make the best choice for your needs.
For further information, please contact Bridget Thorpe in the wills and probate team on 01709 377412. Bradford & Son is situated in Rotherham, South Yorkshire.