If you and your partner are considering mirror wills or already have them in place, then you might be wondering whether your wishes will be honoured after your death.
For those who don’t know, a mirror will is near identical to your partner’s will, making them ideal for those in a relationship who share the same wishes.
But are mirror wills legally binding? What if your partner remarries? Can they change their mind after you have passed and decide to leave your legacy to someone other than your children? How are mirror wills different to regular will writing?
We have all the answers in this article. We explain the meaning of mirror wills, the risks involved, and how you can protect your mirror will:
Mirror Wills Meaning
Even though mirror wills often replicate the same testamentary intentions (i.e., to name the same beneficiaries), they still abide by the fact that when a will is created it is one document per person – two people cannot create a single will that they both sign.
Despite this, mirror wills are still a common choice for those who want to leave their estate to their partner, who in turn leaves everything to them.
Take this as an example:
Mr Smith’s will instructs everything to be left to Mrs Smith, but if she predeceases him, then everything is to be distributed to their children. Mirroring this, Mrs Smith’s will instructs everything to be left to Mr Smith, but if he predeceases her, then everything is to be divided between their children.
These wills not only set out the scenario should one die before the other, but they also set out the steps in the event Mr and Mrs Smith die together (e.g., in a car accident). This means that their mirror wills financially protect the other spouse and/or children.
What’s more, mirror wills can make financial provisions not just for children you have had together, but for children from previous relationships.
Changing a Mirror Will Without Your Partner’s Permission
Changing a mirror will is doable, even if one spouse or partner has died. Typically, mirror wills are agreed upon by partners with the expectation of securing who inherits the estate, but there is no contract that forbids the surviving spouse from changing their will.
In England and Wales, there is freedom of testamentary disposition, which means that either person is free to make a new will as they please without informing their other half.
In most cases, the surviving partner maintains the wishes or the first partner that has passed away, especially when they share children together. However, problems can arise in the context of second marriages or relationships, where there are children from pre-existing relationships.
In these scenarios, we see people in later life changing their wills to cut out their step-children, or even their own children. A change in the nature of the relationship could be to blame for this, or due to an influence of a third party, such as a new partner.
As a result, the person who was originally declared as a beneficiary is left having to take legal action to contest the new will, causing a great deal of distress.
Why Mirror Wills are Recommended
It might seem like a gamble to rely solely on your partner’s word to keep your estate intact, but there are many aspects of a mirror will that still make it an appealing choice.
For one, take mirror wills cost: they are easier and quicker to draw up than two totally different wills, making them an easy and affordable option for couples.
Additionally, mirror wills allow you to appoint extra executors (people chosen by the maker of the will to administer the estate) so that you and your partner’s wishes can be carried out simultaneously by someone you both trust.
How to Protect Your Mirror Will
Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that your partner will honour your wishes.
There are ways to further protect your mirror will though, such as getting a mirror will with an asset protection trust – a legal arrangement where two trustees (usually close friends or family) govern whatever you give to the beneficiary or beneficiaries of the trust. This might be cash or property for your children for instance. Trustees are obliged to carry out the wishes set out in the will, reducing the likelihood of family disputes.
Creating a Life Interest
Creating a life interest trust of property is a way of specifically protecting property in your mirror will. It permits your beneficiary the use of it during their life time, but it passes to a third party upon their death.
To establish a trust for your family home, you and your partner will need to hold the property as tenants in common, meaning that you each own half of it. You then give your spouse a life interest in your will and vice versa. This allows the surviving spouse a home to live in, but the other can die assured that at least half of the property will ultimately pass to their children or to other beneficiaries.
This not only protects the house from being used to pay care home fees, but it forbids the spouse of an ex-partner from inheriting more than half of the house.
Mirror wills are ideal for couples who share the same wishes and is a cheaper option compared to signing totally separate wills. However, it is worth bearing in mind that the freedom to change your will without your partner’s permission poses its own risks.
A life interest trust can resolve some of the issues that can arise (e.g., care home fees and second marriages), but standalone mirror wills rely on trust, which means that there is no complete certainty over who will inherit your estate.
Contact Legacy Wills & Probate
Given the potential problems that mirror wills can pose, it is always best to get expert advice to ensure that your estate is left to your family and to reduce the risk of your legacy being left to someone else.
At Legacy Wills & Probate, we have the knowledge and experience to advise you about the preparation of your will, no matter the family structure or what your circumstances are.
We provide tailored and caring advice, helping you make informed choices when deciding on what financial provisions to make for your loved ones.
Don’t hesitate to contact our helpful team of experts today for more information on mirror wills and probate, as well as how we can help.