Deciding on a mirror will can be a significant step for couples in estate planning. This article navigates you through the essentials—what mirror wills are, their advantages for couples, critical considerations, and the context in which they’re the right choice for your shared future.
Mirror wills are separate legal documents that allow couples to reflect their mutual wishes for asset distribution, offering simplicity, affordability, and control over their estate planning.
While mirror wills offer the flexibility to be revised individually at any time, this also brings potential risks such as one partner changing their will without the other’s knowledge, leading to unintended asset distribution.
To prevent complications and ensure the will reflects the couple’s current situation, it is crucial to update a mirror will regularly, at least every five years or after significant life events.
Understanding Mirror Wills: A Comprehensive Overview
Couples create mirror wills as separate legal documents to reflect their joint wishes for asset distribution. These wills mirror each other just like the partners they represent, offering a shared vision for the future. Couples favour these wills when they want their estate to be distributed as per their mutual decisions.
When it comes to securing your partner’s financial future, choosing a mirror will could bring peace of mind by making sufficient provisions for family members.
The Structure of a Mirror Will
Generally, a mirror will structures by appointing the partner as the executor. It’s their duty to carry out the will’s instructions and manage the estate’s allocation. It is advisable to appoint at least one more executor to secure the partner’s financial future and ensure the estate’s appropriate distribution. This is particularly important in case both partners pass away simultaneously.
A mirror will also contains a residuary estate clause, covering all assets not distinctly mentioned in the will. This clause guarantees that any unidentified assets in the will are still part of the estate distribution.
Flexibility and Changes in a Mirror Will
Mirror wills stand out for their flexibility. Like any will, either party can revise mirror wills at their discretion. Often, the surviving party, who is usually the surviving partner, is designated as the sole beneficiary, set to inherit all assets as outlined in the will.
However, while this flexibility can be beneficial, it also carries potential risks if not communicated properly. Regardless of their initial intentions, both parties can legally amend their mirror will whenever they wish. Furthermore, no legal obligation exists for a partner to disclose any changes made to their mirror will to the other person.
The Benefits of Choosing a Mirror Will for Your Estate Plan
Mirror wills come with numerous advantages like affordability, simplicity, and the capacity to safeguard each other’s financial future. Compared to the services offered by solicitors and reputed companies, their establishment can be at a relatively lower cost. This makes them a particularly useful tool for couples in a civil partnership as they ensure the surviving partner inherits the estate according to their shared wishes.
In addition to being cost-effective, mirror wills also bring simplicity to the complex process of estate planning. Companies like Union Wills offer a service where professional advisors review the will, ensuring its legal validity and binding nature, thus reducing the risk of disputes.
Potential Pitfalls and Considerations with Mirror Wills
Even with their advantages, mirror wills carry potential setbacks. The main risk associated with mirror wills involves the potential for one partner to alter their will without the other’s awareness, potentially resulting in unintended distribution of assets. Mirror wills can be changed before the death of either partner, but mutual wills cannot be changed after the death of one partner..
The presence of good faith between partners is of utmost importance in the creation of mirror wills, as these wills are based on the premise that neither party will modify their will in secret. Failure to update a mirror will to reflect significant life changes could result in one spouse or partner altering their will without the other’s awareness, or in unintended asset distribution or other complications upon one’s passing.
When Is a Mirror Will the Right Choice?
Mirror wills are seen as beneficial in the following situations:
When couples wish to distribute their estate collectively and have shared estate planning objectives and final wishes
In cases where partners are not married, as it secures the legal entitlement of the surviving partner to inherit
When children are involved, as it ensures their inheritance of the estate after both partners have passed.
A mirror will provides flexibility and control over assets, allowing both individuals to set provisions for their assets’ distribution after their demise, hence accommodating shared wishes in individual wills. Therefore, when deciding on a mirror will, couples should take into consideration their family situation, including:
The nature of their assets
How to Legally Formalise Your Mirror Will
For the legal formalisation of a mirror will, couples should consult a solicitor or use an online will-writing service to ensure accuracy and compliance with legal regulations. The formalisation of a mirror will in the UK, for instance, entails the allocation of the deceased individual’s entire estate to their surviving partner, and the procedure is akin to that of creating a simple basic will.
It’s important to note that different locations may have varying legal requirements for mirror wills. In the United States, for example, mirror wills are required to be in written form, signed by the testator, and witnessed by a minimum of two other individuals. The solicitor’s role is to offer guidance and support in the formalisation of a Mirror Will, ensuring it is customised to the specific circumstances of the couple and helps to prevent errors or oversights.
Safeguarding Your Children’s Inheritance in a Mirror Will
A major feature of a mirror will is its ability to protect your children’s inheritance. A guardian can be appointed in the will who will assume parental responsibilities for your children in the event that both legal or natural parents are deceased.
In a mirror will, it is also possible to specify the age at which children are entitled to inherit, which is commonly set at 18 years. The inclusion of trusts in a mirror will provides protection for children’s inheritance by directing your portion of property and assets to the trust, thereby preventing them from being passed on to unintended recipients.
Addressing the Future: Updating Your Mirror Will
As life is constantly changing, your mirror will should accommodate these changes. It’s recommended that couples should revise their mirror will every five years or following any significant life event, such as major lifestyle changes or the passing of one spouse or partner.
There is no statutory requirement to uphold the original provisions of a mirror will; modifications can be implemented as circumstances evolve or if the parties involved desire a different arrangement in their estate plan. However, failure to update a mirror will to reflect significant life changes could result in one spouse or partner altering their will without the other’s awareness, or in unintended asset distribution or other complications upon one’s passing.
Preparing for the Unthinkable: The Role of Backstop Provisions
In a mirror will, backstop provisions function as a contingency plan for asset distribution during unforeseen events or calamities, ensuring the estate gets distributed as per the couple’s wishes. Several specific examples of backstop provisions in a mirror will could encompass:
Ensuring uniformity of provisions in both wills
Establishing a contingency plan in the event that specified beneficiaries do not outlive the testator
Specifying that assets are to be allocated to the surviving spouse before being distributed to other beneficiaries.
In formulating backstop provisions in a mirror will, it is imperative to ensure that the provisions are consistent and identical in both individuals’ identical wills. This is crucial for clarity and to reduce the likelihood of disputes in the estate distribution.
Mirror Will vs. Mutual Will: Understanding the Distinctions
Though mirror wills and mutual wills may seem alike, they differ. Unlike mirror wills, mutual wills do not permit alterations without consent, whereas mirror wills provide greater adaptability. A mutual will becomes unchangeable upon the death of either party and cannot be modified thereafter, whereas making mirror wills can accommodate changes in individual circumstances.
A mutual will, also known as a joint will, can be modified while both partners are still living and possess testamentary capacity. Nevertheless, after one partner passes away, the surviving partner is obligated to adhere to the terms of the mutual will and is unable to make alterations to it in respect to the deceased spouse, who is also referred to as the deceased partner. In the event that the surviving partner dies, the provisions of the mutual will continue to govern the distribution of the estate.
A mutual will may be preferred in situations such as having children from a previous relationship, where the individual seeks to guarantee the execution of their intentions and the distribution of their estate according to their plan. Mutual wills tend to provide more security, without the possibility of the surviving spouse altering their will, as is feasible with a mirror will.
Essential Clauses to Include in Your Mirror Will
A mirror will isn’t merely a document; it embodies a thorough plan for your estate. The executor appointment clause in a mirror will is formulated by referencing the chosen executor and instructing them to follow the decedent’s stated wishes.
The guardianship clause in a mirror will specifies the individual who will assume the responsibility for minor children in the event of both parents passing away. The asset distribution clause is typically designed to be a comprehensive provision that does not specify individual assets but encompasses all owned assets, reflecting the intent of each partner to have a simultaneous provision for asset distribution.
Lastly, backstop provisions are included in a mirror will to ensure that the estate is distributed in a manner consistent with the mutual intentions of both partners, even in unforeseen circumstances.
To sum up, mirror wills offer a flexible and personalised solution for couples who wish to secure their shared future. They provide the framework for a shared vision of asset distribution and protect each partner’s financial future. However, it’s crucial to be aware of their potential pitfalls and keep them updated to reflect significant life changes. With careful planning and regular reviews, mirror wills can be an effective tool in estate planning, ensuring your assets are distributed as per your wishes, and your loved ones are taken care of, even when you’re no longer around.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are mirror wills a good idea?
Mirror wills may not be a good idea as they could potentially lead to one person controlling the other. It’s not necessary for two people to have identical wills.
What is the loophole in a mirror will?
The loophole in a mirror will is that the surviving spouse can alter or rewrite the will after their partner dies, diverting the deceased’s assets with no consequences. Be cautious when using mirror wills.
What is the difference between a joint will and a mirror will?
The main difference between a joint will and a mirror will is that a joint will is created and signed by two or more people, while mirror wills are separate documents made by two individuals that are usually very similar in terms of terms and conditions. It is advised to consider updating a joint will and opt for mirror wills for more flexibility.
What is an example of a simple mirror will?
A simple mirror will example is when a married couple with children leaves everything to each other, and the surviving spouse leaves everything to the children in equal shares. In this case, both spouses mirror each other’s arrangements to ensure a smooth transfer of assets to the children.
What is a mirror will?
A mirror will is a testamentary document that reflects the shared wishes of partners by creating essentially the same terms for each will.