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What Are Mirror Wills for Married Couples?

Mirror wills can offer a practical and secure way for married couples to plan their estates together. However, they can sometimes be complex and are not suitable for everyone. In this short guide, we answer: what are mirror wills for married couples, and when should you consider getting one?

Ensuring that your loved ones are protected after you are gone is a vital part of estate planning. This is particularly important for married couples who want to safeguard their assets as gifts for their families.

As with all estate-planning decisions, it is essential to understand not just the advantages but also the potential complexities involved in mirror wills. In this guide, we explain why some married couples opt for mirror wills to ensure their wishes are carried out.

If you have any questions we have not answered, our expert Wills, Trusts & Probate solicitors are happy to speak to you regarding your query and provide the legal services you need. You can contact us by completing the enquiry form below or by calling 0151 666 9090.

What Are Mirror Wills?

Mirror wills are relatively common and, in theory, a very good solution for married couples aiming to look after their families. They are a pair of legal documents that are almost entirely identical. They are created by partners, typically married couples or civil partners, and reflect each other's wishes in terms of estate distribution.

These wills are “mirrored” in content, meaning that the terms, beneficiaries, and conditions outlined in one will are closely replicated in the other.

Key characteristics of mirror wills include:

  • Same terms: The primary feature of mirror wills is their similarity in terms of asset distribution, executors, guardians for minors, and any specific bequests or conditions.
  • Flexibility in execution: Each will in a set of mirror wills is a separate legal document, meaning that each partner retains the autonomy to amend or revoke their will independently, should their circumstances or wishes change.
  • Protection and provision: Mirror wills offer a structured way to ensure that the surviving partner is taken care of, with the estate of the deceased partner passing directly to them.
  • Simplicity and efficiency: By aligning their estate planning, couples can simplify the process, reduce potential conflicts, and ensure that their collective wishes are clearly articulated and legally recognised.

Mirror wills represent not just a legal document but a shared commitment to honouring and protecting each other's wishes after one partner dies. They may also contain terms that will look after the surviving party during their lifetime, and account for what happens to the assets after the surviving partner dies.

What Are the Advantages of Mirror Wills for Married Couples?

Mirror wills offer numerous advantages for married couples, civil partners and long-term couples seeking a cohesive and secure approach to estate planning. These include:

Mutual Protection

They prioritise the financial wellbeing of both spouses. In the event that one person dies, the surviving partner is usually assured that they will inherit the entire estate. This protects the surviving partner's financial future and can provide security during a challenging time.

Preservation of Intent

Mirror wills ensure that the couple's collective wishes are upheld. They enable couples to clearly outline their intentions regarding asset distribution, ensuring that their legacy passes on precisely as they desire. The process of creating these separate legal documents also ensures that the partners' wishes for their joint estate are aligned.

Simplified Process

Estate planning can be complex, but mirror wills aim to simplify the process for couples. These wills eliminate the need for separate and potentially conflicting documents, streamlining the process and reducing the potential for disputes.

Clear Beneficiary Designation

Mirror wills typically name the same primary and secondary beneficiaries, such as children or other relatives. This clarity avoids confusion and ensures that assets are distributed according to the couple's joint decisions.

Flexibility with Autonomy

While mirror wills share a common structure, they maintain individual autonomy. Each spouse can make changes to their will independently to accommodate changing circumstances, without requiring the other's consent.

Guardianship for Children

For couples with children, mirror wills enable them to appoint the same guardians for their children aged under 18, which can ensure continuity of care in case both parents pass away simultaneously.

What Are The Downsides of Mirror Wills?

While mirror wills offer several benefits for married couples, they also come with certain downsides and considerations that couples should be aware of. They will not be suitable for every couple, and conditions that are advantages in some cases will be disadvantages in others. Here are some of the key downsides of mirror wills:

Risk of Revocation or Amendment

While mirror wills align the wishes of both spouses, each person maintains individual autonomy over their will. This means that either spouse can make changes to their will independently, and potentially deviate from the original shared plan.

Dependent on Trust

The successful execution of mirror wills relies on a high level of trust between spouses. If trust is compromised or if one spouse makes changes to their will without informing the other, it can lead to disputes or unintended consequences.

Surviving Spouse's Authority

In many cases, the surviving spouse retains the authority to alter their will after the death of their partner. This could result in changes that redirect the inheritance away from the original beneficiaries.

Subsequent Marriages

If the surviving partner remarries after their partner’s death, the original will may be deemed invalid and the surviving spouse or partner is free to change their will at any time. This means that there is no guarantee of inheritance for children and other beneficiaries after one partner passes away.

Complex Family Dynamics

For couples with complex family structures, such as children from previous marriages, mirror wills may not adequately address individual concerns and desires. Separate wills tailored to each person's unique circumstances might be more appropriate, especially if partners want to bequeath their assets individually.

Changes in Assets

If significant changes occur in the couple's assets, such as if they acquire new properties or investments, mirror wills may not automatically account for these changes. Periodic reviews and updates may be necessary to ensure the wills reflect current circumstances. Working with an experienced solicitor when making mirror wills can help to ensure that all of the necessary considerations are taken into account.

Inheritance Tax Considerations

Depending on the size of the estate, mirror wills may not be the most tax-efficient option. Couples may benefit from professional advice on tax planning and potential tax liabilities.

Who Should Make a Mirror Will?

There are some situations in which a mirror will can provide exactly what a couple needs in terms of estate planning. Here is a look at who should consider mirror wills:

  • Married or committed couples: Mirror wills are primarily designed for married couples or those in committed relationships, such as civil partnerships.
  • Couples with children: Married couples with children often find mirror wills advantageous because they can provide for the surviving spouse during their lifetime while ensuring that their children inherit the assets after both spouses pass away.
  • Similar beneficiaries: Couples who intend to leave their assets to the same beneficiaries, such as children, family members, or charitable organisations, are good candidates for mirror wills.
  • Simple estates: Mirror wills work well when the couple's estate is relatively simple and does not involve complex arrangements, businesses, or significant assets that require specialised handling.

Mirror wills are not suitable for every couple and every scenario. For example, mirror wills would not be recommended to couples who have differing wishes for when they pass away, those with complex family structures, or those with a significant disparity in the assets they own.

What Are Mutual Wills?

Mutual wills are sometimes mistaken for mirror wills. A mutual will is a distinct type of will arrangement that differs from a mirror will in several key aspects. While both mirror wills and mutual wills involve couples coordinating their estate plans, mutual wills come with specific features and implications:

  • Jointly executed: A mutual will is a single document jointly executed by a couple. In contrast, mirror wills are two separate, nearly identical wills created by each partner.
  • Binding commitment: One of the defining characteristics of mutual wills is that they often involve a legally binding commitment between the partners not to revoke or alter the terms of the will without the consent of the other party, even after one spouse's death. This means that the surviving spouse cannot change the will unilaterally even after the other party dies.
  • Irrevocable provisions: Mutual wills typically contain irrevocable provisions, meaning that once one spouse passes away, the surviving spouse is bound by the terms of the will. This can provide added security for certain beneficiaries, such as children from a previous marriage.
  • Posthumous distribution: Mutual wills often outline a series of posthumous asset distributions. For example, a couple in a civil partnership may leave their estate to each other first and then specify how the assets should be distributed among their children or other beneficiaries upon the second spouse's death.

Mutual wills are often used in blended families to provide assurance that assets will be distributed as intended, even after one spouse's death. While they offer a high degree of certainty, the irrevocable nature of mutual wills can limit flexibility in certain situations, making legal guidance essential when considering this estate planning option.

How can Percy Hughes & Roberts help? 

For couples who are thinking about protecting their children and their inheritance, mirror wills offer a practical and reciprocal way to safeguard their assets. While they come with certain considerations and limitations, the advantages of a mirror will often make it a compelling choice for many couples.

At Percy Hughes & Roberts, we understand the importance of estate planning, and our team of experienced professionals is here to guide you through the process. Whether you choose mirror wills, mutual wills, or other estate-planning strategies, we are dedicated to helping you achieve peace of mind and ensure that your wishes are protected for generations to come.

If you require legal advice about writing a mirror will or need assistance with anything else to do with wills, trusts and probate, Percy Hughes & Roberts can help. If you would like to contact one of our expert Wills, Trusts and Probate solicitors you can do so by calling 0151 666 9090 or by completing the “Get in touch” form on this site.

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