Mirror Wills

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Catrin, UK Solicitor
03/04/2024 ● 3 minutes
Mirror Wills can make plan­ning to­geth­er for the future simple for couples. This guide dives into the es­sen­tials of Mirror Wills - their be­ne­fits, how they work, and tips for keep­ing them up-to-date, aiming to make the pro­cess of plan­ning your estate with your part­ner as smooth as pos­sible.

Mirror Wills used to be a very pop­u­lar type of Will in the UK but are now con­sidered to be fairly un­usual. Their pur­pose is to rep­res­ent the shared wishes of a couple, as they are used when two Wills have identical terms.

They can be de­scribed as two in­di­vidual Wills that re­flect each other's con­tent, al­low­ing part­ners to ‘’mirror’’ each other’s wishes. Es­sen­tially, they allow both you and your part­ner to craft wills that have the same or very sim­il­ar terms so that your estate plans are syn­chron­ised.

Unlike Joint Will or Mutual Will, Mirror Wills are sep­ar­ate doc­u­ments for each part­ner, so either part­ner can update their own Will in­de­pend­ently without the need for the other part­ner's con­sent. This flex­ib­il­ity allows each in­di­vidual to make changes to their Will as needed to ac­com­mod­ate changes in their cir­cum­stances, wishes, or be­ne­fi­ciar­ies. It's im­port­ant for each part­ner to com­mu­nic­ate any up­dates to their Will to ensure that their estate plans remain aligned with their joint wishes and in­ten­tions.

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What is a Mirror Will?

Mirror Wills happen when you and your part­ner each create a Will that re­flects the other's choices very closely. Typ­ic­ally, this means that if one of you passes away, everything goes to the sur­viv­ing part­ner. Then, once both of you are gone, your be­long­ings and assets are passed on to people or or­gan­isa­tions that you both agreed on, like your chil­dren or your fa­vour­ite char­it­ies.

Mirror Wills are most fa­voured by couples be­cause they offer a straight­for­ward way to make sure your estate plans match up. But, like all things, Mirror Wills come with their own set of pros and cons.

Ad­vant­ages of Mirror Wills

  • Sim­pli­city: Craft­ing a Mirror Will with your part­ner cuts down the com­plex­ity of estate plan­ning. You both agree on how things should be handled, making it easier to draft and fi­nal­ise your Wills.
  • Cost-Ef­fect­ive: Since Mirror Wills are so sim­il­ar, they can often be cre­ated to­geth­er at a re­duced cost com­pared to com­pletely sep­ar­ate ones.
  • Peace of Mind: Know­ing you and your part­ner's Wills are in sync provides a higher level of re­as­sur­ance than com­pletely sep­ar­ate Wills.
  • Flex­ib­il­ity: Unlike Joint Wills, Mirror Wills offer the free­dom to make changes if your cir­cum­stances or wishes change over time.

Dis­ad­vant­ages of Mirror Wills

  • Sur­viv­or­ship issue: When one person dies, the sur­viv­ing part­ner's Will often be­comes ir­re­voc­able, mean­ing it cannot be changed after the death of the first part­ner. This is a char­ac­ter­ist­ic of some Mirror Will ar­range­ments, and it's es­sen­tial for in­di­vidu­als to un­der­stand this aspect and con­sider it care­fully when choos­ing Mirror Wills as their estate plan­ning option.
  • Po­ten­tial for Con­flict: With Mirror Wills, one part­ner can change their Will without telling the other. This might cause ar­gu­ments, es­pe­cially if the changes are big and not what was ori­gin­ally agreed on. Couples should dis­cuss any pro­posed up­dates to their Wills openly and hon­estly to ensure that both part­ners are aware of and agree with the changes being made. This can help pre­vent dis­agree­ments and ensure that their estate plans remain aligned with their joint wishes and in­ten­tions.
  • Risk of Un­in­tended Dis­in­her­it­ance: If after one part­ner passes away, the other re­mar­ries and doesn’t update their Will before also passing, the new spouse and any future chil­dren or step-chil­dren might end up being totally left out of the estate. That’s why it’s cru­cial to reg­u­larly review and update your Will to pre­vent this.

His­tory of Mirror Wills

The concept of Mirror Wills dates back sev­er­al cen­tur­ies in Eng­lish law. Ini­tially, they were used in­form­ally by couples who wished to ensure that their es­tates would be handled sim­il­arly upon their deaths.

As the legal system in Eng­land evolved, par­tic­u­larly with the form­al­isa­tion of will and test­a­ment­ary pro­vi­sions in the 19th cen­tury with acts such as the Wills Act of 1837, the prac­tice of cre­at­ing Mirror Wills became more struc­tured. This Act laid down the legal re­quire­ments for wills and has been the found­a­tion for will writ­ing in the UK, in­clud­ing the cre­ation of Mirror Wills.

The use of Mirror Wills became in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar after World War II when the so­ci­et­al em­phasis on family se­cur­ity became more pro­nounced. Couples looked to ensure that their spouses and chil­dren were fin­an­cially secure, which con­trib­uted to the pop­ular­ity of Mirror Wills.

💡 Would you like to create a Simple Will in­stead?

The de­cline in the pop­ular­ity of Mirror Wills re­flects broader changes in so­ci­ety, law, and the eco­nomy. As fam­ilies become more di­verse and people become more aware of the po­ten­tial com­plic­a­tions and lim­it­a­tions of tra­di­tion­al wills, they are turn­ing to more soph­ist­ic­ated estate plan­ning tools.

Com­plex Family Dy­nam­ics

Modern family struc­tures are in­creas­ingly com­plex, fea­tur­ing blended fam­ilies, mul­tiple mar­riages, stepchil­dren, and other non-tra­di­tion­al ar­range­ments.

Mirror Wills, which typ­ic­ally dis­tribute assets to the sur­viv­ing spouse and then equally among chil­dren, may not ad­equately ad­dress the nu­anced needs of these fam­ilies.

Lack of Flex­ib­il­ity

Mirror Wills are static and can become prob­lem­at­ic if life cir­cum­stances change, such as the re­mar­riage of the sur­viv­ing spouse or changes in fin­an­cial situ­ations. Once one part­ner passes away, al­though the sur­viv­ing part­ner is typ­ic­ally free to amend their will, this can lead to dis­in­her­it­ance or un­in­tended be­ne­fi­ciar­ies that the ori­gin­al Wills did not an­ti­cip­ate.

Risk of Re­voc­a­tion

A sig­ni­fic­ant legal caveat with Mirror Wills is that the sur­viv­ing spouse might change their will after the death of the first spouse. This change could com­pletely negate the wishes of the de­ceased, es­pe­cially in terms of sub­sequent mar­riages or new chil­dren.

Greater Awareness of Estate Plan­ning

There is now greater public know­ledge and legal advice avail­able on vari­ous estate plan­ning tools. In­stru­ments such as Trusts, Lasting Powers of At­torney, and Dis­cre­tion­ary Wills offer more flex­ib­il­ity and pro­tec­tion against risks such as re­mar­riage and cred­itor claims, making them more at­tract­ive than tra­di­tion­al Mirror Wills.

In­her­it­ance Tax Con­sid­er­a­tions

As prop­erty values have skyrock­eted, estate plan­ning has become more crit­ical, es­pe­cially in terms of tax plan­ning and asset pro­tec­tion. Simple Mirror Wills may not offer the best struc­ture for min­im­is­ng po­ten­tial in­her­it­ance tax burdens.

Mirror Wills often fail to take ad­vantage of tax plan­ning op­por­tun­it­ies. For ex­ample, trusts can be used to min­im­ise IHT li­ab­il­it­ies, provide for minor chil­dren or adult de­pend­ents, and pro­tect assets from being fully ex­posed to tax­a­tion upon the death of the second spouse.

Read more: Who Can Wit­ness a Will?

Im­port­ance of Up­dat­ing Mirror Wills

Keep­ing your Mirror Wills up­dated is es­sen­tial, es­pe­cially after sig­ni­fic­ant life events like births, mar­riages, or di­vor­ces. Other changes, such as wel­com­ing grand­chil­dren or selling major assets, can also alter your estate dis­tri­bu­tion wishes.

Im­port­antly, one Mirror Will can be up­dated without need­ing to change the other, of­fer­ing flex­ib­il­ity to adjust to new cir­cum­stances in­di­vidu­ally.

To ensure your Wills re­flect your cur­rent wishes, it’s a great idea to set re­mind­ers for peri­od­ic re­views, es­pe­cially after major life events.

Case Stud­ies/Hy­po­thet­ical Scen­ari­os

We’ve gone over the theory, but it’s far easier to un­der­stand Mirror Wills when we put them into prac­tice. Here are some hy­po­thet­ical scen­ari­os that’ll help you to un­der­stand how Mirror Wills work in the real world.

Scen­ar­io 1: No Up­dates on Mirror Will After Spouse Passes Away

John and Emma, mar­ried part­ners, have Mirror Wills leav­ing everything to each other, and after both pass, to their chil­dren. John dies, and Emma re­mar­ries.

Without up­dat­ing her Will, it still pri­or­it­ises her ar­range­ment with John, po­ten­tially ex­clud­ing her new spouse and any future chil­dren or any step-chil­dren from in­her­it­ance. If Emma doesn't update her Will, her new spouse might not re­ceive any­thing from her estate, leav­ing her wishes for her new family un­ful­filled.

Scen­ar­io 2: Only Heir Passes Away

Mike and Sarah have Mirror Wills that leave everything to their only child. Sadly, their child passes away before them. Now, they need to decide where their estate should go in­stead.

If they don't update their Wills, the law will decide who gets their assets, which might not match who Mike and Sarah would have chosen them­selves, such as a be­loved char­ity or a close friend.

Can a Sur­viv­ing Spouse Change a Mirror Will?

Unlike Joint Wills, a sur­viv­ing spouse can change their Mirror Will after their part­ner has passed away, as Mirror Wills are in­di­vidual, not joint doc­u­ments, mean­ing the part­ner left behind isn’t locked into the agree­ment made when both were alive.

If life changes, for ex­ample if the sur­viv­ing part­ner gets re­mar­ried or there are other big family shifts, the sur­viv­ing part­ner’s will can be up­dated to match these new situ­ations.

With that said, It's im­port­ant for the sur­viv­ing spouse to con­sider the com­mit­ments and agree­ments made with their former part­ner before making sub­stan­tial changes to their Will.

Also, some Mirror Will ar­range­ments may in­clude pro­vi­sions stat­ing that the sur­viv­ing part­ner's Will be­comes ir­re­voc­able after the death of the first part­ner. This means that the sur­viv­ing part­ner is unable to make changes to their Will fol­low­ing the death of their spouse. This scen­ar­io typ­ic­ally arises when both part­ners wish to ensure that their re­spect­ive es­tates are dis­trib­uted in a spe­cif­ic manner and want to pre­vent the sur­viv­ing part­ner from chan­ging the dis­tri­bu­tion plan after the death of the first part­ner.

Read more: What You Should Never Put in Your Will

Mirror Wills in the UK

Mirror Wills can be used for couples want­ing to make sure their estate plans match up. They can be straight­for­ward and flex­ible, but are not as be­ne­fi­cial as having a single Will.

A Single Will is cur­rently the most pop­u­lar type of Will and is ac­cess­ible to anyone, re­gardless of mar­it­al status. It serves as a doc­u­ment out­lining the dis­tri­bu­tion of your estate after your passing.

This type of Will is suit­able for situ­ations where part­ners have dif­fer­ent wishes and is es­pe­cially useful for mar­ried in­di­vidu­als with chil­dren from pre­vi­ous re­la­tion­ships, as it allows for the di­vi­sion of the estate between the part­ner and chil­dren.

Over­all, a Single Will provides the most flex­ib­il­ity and sim­pli­city among the vari­ous types of Wills avail­able in the UK.

Did you know that Aatos offers a Single Will? You can simply answer some straight­for­ward ques­tions online and select the terms for your Will. Aatos takes care of all fur­ther ar­range­ments.

With Aatos, there's no need to worry about print­ing, stor­ing, or up­dat­ing your Will. It re­mains ac­cess­ible and up to date at all times. Aatos offers the most cost-ef­fect­ive option for writ­ing your Will and keep­ing it up to date, with the flex­ib­il­ity to cancel any­time. The price is just £99!

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