What are Mirror Wills?
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Mirror wills typically make identical ‘mirror’ provisions in the 2 wills of a couple.
Mirror wills are ‘matching’ wills made by a couple that reflect the terms of each other – hence the phrase ‘mirror’. The terms of both wills will normally be identical, including:-
- First death gifts of residue
- Executor appointments
- Guardian appointments
- Second death gifts of residue
- Disaster scenario/backstop provisions
Are Mirror Wills a good idea?
Yes – if the outcome they give match your wishes!
What is the Purpose of a Mirror Will?
Let’s assume that a married couple with children are making mirrors wills. Let’s also assume that each of the couple have 2 siblings who they would want to benefit in a ‘disaster scenario’ (see below) So, they may want the wills to give an outcome of:-
- Everything to each other; failing which
- Everything to the children in equal shares; failing which
- Siblings on both sides to get 25% each (‘disaster scenario’ or ‘backstop provisions’)
So, what happens is that those terms are ‘reflected’ in both wills. The backstop provisions are something that often ‘throw’ couples making wills.
How do Backstop provisions work?
This is to cover off a scenario where the couple and all children have passed. It is sometimes referred to as a ‘disaster scenario’. Instinctively, each partner will be minded to leave their share of the estate to their own family/friends/chosen beneficiaries. But, this presents as a possible problem.
If the disaster scenario arises because of that very thing (and all of the family pass together) then the first provisions (ie everything to each other) would in the first place apply. The younger of the 2 of the couple is deemed to have survived, and their estate then receives everything (ie including the share of their older partner). If the will of the younger only makes provisions for (say) their own family and friends (their 2 siblings in this example), the siblings of the older would get nothing.
The way to get over this is to ‘mirror’ provisions for all siblings in both wills. So each will has a backstop of “everything in equal shares to my siblings and those of my partner”.
Who is the Executor of a Mirror Will?
You would typically expect that each partner is the executor in the first instance, with substitute executors being appointed for ‘second death’. The substitute executors can be beneficiaries of the wills themselves – eg (in this example) the siblings across both sides. As with the backstop provisions/disaster scenario it is considered good practice to include people from both sides, and for the executors to be the same (mirror) in both wills. That being so, you have the same people dealing with both estates were the couple to die together. Having different executors on each will would cause administrative/logistical issues.
How many Executors for a Mirror Will?
There is no magic formula for this, but as above you would expect ‘each other’ to act in first instance, with some sort of provision for alternates thereafter. One sibling from each side perhaps in the example we’ve looked at above.
Can I appoint Guardians in a Mirror Will?
Yes, and this often appears as mirror wills are typically used for married couples (with children). It would be normal to include the same guardian(s) in both of the 2 mirror wills.
> Who should I choose as a Guardian?
What are the cons of a Mirror Will?
The main ‘con’ to mirror wills is where death occurs more naturally (than a disaster scenario), and one partner dies with the whole estate then passing to the survivor. This means that the will of the survivor remains valid, with the following remaining provisions still valid/set to occur on their own death:-
- Everything to their children equally; else
- Everything to both sets of siblings in equal shares
And this highlights the main con – that being that the survivor could change their own will after the death of their late partner. BUT, if this is a concern to you, do remember that the backstop provisions is likely to never be needed if you have children – as they will at some point likely survive their parents and inherit. This ‘con’ is therefore a relatively benign point. And, the backstop does need to be in there to cover off the ‘disaster scenario’.
If you don’t make mirror provisions in both wills, your estates may not pass as you’d want if you die together.
Can a Surviving Spouse change a Mirror Will?
Yes and no! As a surviving spouse, you are free to change your will as and when you choose (whether before or after the death of your spouse). Mirror wills do not ‘lock in’ the couple to the terms of the wills – they rely to some extent on the spirit of good faith, and knowing that as a couple they would each ensure that all of their combined wishes are seen through.
There is a further type of will called a ‘mutual will’. These may well include mirror provisions, but further they will seek to bind the survivor to the terms included in the mutual wills, and remove the legal right for the survivor to change their mutual will at any point after they have signed it (without the consent of the other party).
Mirror Wills or Mutual Wills?
Mutual wills are very rarely used. They seek to lock a couple into scenarios that may become undesirable or unworkable years down the line if circumstances change. As a practitioner I have only ever encountered negative outcomes to the execution of mutual wills.
My own view is that mirror wills and good faith should be the starting point.
Do Mirror Wills need Probate?
It is not so much a will that defines if Probate is needed, but more the assets that will pass by it (the will). And so, if there are assets in the estate that require probate, then yes, probate will be needed for a mirror will as it would any other will.
Is there one Will or do we have one each?
There is no such thing as a combined will – even for mirror wills. You will each have your own will, each of which will mirror the other.
What should I include in a Mirror Will?
Your mirror will should cover all of those things that any other will does, including:-
General wishes for things such as funeral arrangements are best deal with in a side Letter of Wishes.
> Find out more about what to include in your Mirror Will
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