What does a Mirror Will mean?
A Mirror Will is actually two Wills, usually created by spouses or partners, that names each other as the main beneficiary, with each Will having a backup plan in case both partners are involved in a common accident. It is one of the most common approaches for couples when preparing their Last Will and Testament.
A Mirror Will is very different to a joint Will which is one document that serves the needs of two people. Joint Wills used to be popular many years ago, primarily as a time saving tool. It saved the Will writer having to type out two very similar Wills, when only the main beneficiary was different.
Joint Wills were also popular in a time when the patriarch of the family was considered to own the assets, and a wife was thought to not have an equal claim over the estate.
However, in modern times joint Wills are rarely used. Attitudes towards asset ownership, and the efficiency of Will writing software means that there is absolutely no advantage in preparing a joint Will. But there are many disadvantages.
The main disadvantage of a joint Will is that it creates confusion when one partner writes a new document revoking previous Wills, and it becomes unclear whether both parties are bound by the terms in the old joint document. In general, joint Wills should be avoided.
What are the different types of Wills?
There are a few other variations on the joint Will or Mirror Will. A Mutual Will is a pair of Wills that a made after a legal agreement is put in place to dispose of combined assets in a certain way. What makes a Mutual Will unique is that neither can be revoked (or cancelled) without agreement from both partners. There are many resources online that describe a Mutual Will as the same as a Joint Will. This is incorrect. Mutual Wills are extremely unusual, and are rarely the best option. Typically one person makes a standard Will, and then contractually ties the second person into an irrevocable Will. It’s a legal challenge waiting to happen!
The term “Reciprocal Will” can also be used in place of either a mutual Will or a Mirror Will. A Reciprocal Will simply means that the two documents have been written to benefit each other.
Can you change a Mirrored Will?
Yes. This is the important aspect of a Mirrored Will that makes it different to a Mutual Will, or to some extent a Joint Will.
A Mutual Will includes a contract that prevents the surviving partner from updating the Will once the first partner has died.
A Mirror Will is simply two Wills that generally reflect each other’s intent. There is nothing that ties the two Wills together legally. Typically one partner names the other as the main beneficiary, and the second partner mirrors this by naming the first partner as the main beneficiary.
But once they are in place, the each partner can update or change their Will whenever they wish. There is no legal obligation to keep the Will unchanged.
Joint Wills (where one Will serves the needs of two people) is in a murky grey area. If one of the partners writes a new Will revoking all previous Wills, then the status of the joint Will is confusing, and it usually resolved in court. This is why joint Wills should always be avoided.
Advantages of a Mirror Will
The classic modern family with 2.4 children is still very common. Sadly, there is often a misconception that with this family structure, a Last Will and Testament is not even necessary. After all, it’s obvious what will happen to the estate. But in this situation dying without a Will is surprisingly complicated.
If there is no Will, the estate is divided according to “intestate laws”, which is a government formula for dividing the assets. If there is a surviving partner with children, then the surviving spouse receives the first £250,000. The remainder is then divided such that the surviving partner receives a half share, and the children share the other half.
The intestate distribution is rarely the same plan that a person would choose. It can often result in a family home being sold as the children request their share of the estate. This can even be against the wishes of the surviving spouse.
With a classic family structure, most people would prefer the entire estate to pass to their surviving spouse, and if both partners were involved in a common accident, then for the entire estate to be divided between the children.
This distribution plan would be the same no matter which spouse died first. And this plan would be a classic candidate for a Mirror Will.
Disadvantages of a Mirror Will
But there are definitely circumstances when a Mirror Will is not be best option, and there are even countless articles warning of the dangers of Mirror Wills. But these warnings only make sense if the Mirror Wills are blindly written with no common sense review. A boilerplate Mirror Will is a cost saving for the Will writer, but rarely serves the needs of the consumer.
The most obvious example of when a Mirror Will just doesn’t work is in the case of a step-family or “blended family”. This is usually a second marriage or new relationship, when there are children from previous relationships. One partner is not the biological parent of all of the children.
Imagine in this case that the first partner leaves everything to their spouse, and if they are both involved in a common accident, then everything will pass to the children. The second partner does likewise in a Mirror Will, even though the children are not biologically theirs.
The first partner then dies leaving the second partner to move on with their life. A few years later they enter into a new relationship. Their Mirror Will now makes absolutely no sense. They would be leaving their entire estate to somebody else’s children.
The correct approach in this situation would be the first partner to leave a life interest in their estate which would then pass onto the children after the death of the second partner. It is not a scenario that is compatible with a Mirror Will.
Mirror Wills do not need to be taken literally
If you ask a Will writer to create a Will for yourself and then simply order a “Mirror Will for my spouse”, there is a good chance that the mirrored document will not be perfect.
A boilerplate Mirror Will would seem fair, but it is unlikely that partners have exactly the same needs for the distribution of their estate. One partner may have a particular family heirloom that needs to go to a favourite niece. The other partner may want to leave a charitable bequest to their local choir or church. You should be free to tweak the two Wills so that although they are Mirrors, they are individualised.
How to create a Mirror Will
There are essentially three ways to prepare a Last Will and Testament. And each of these approaches would allow you to prepare a Mirror Will.
Writing your Will with a blank piece of paper or do-it-yourself Will kit
Far from ideal, this is the cheapest approach to writing a Will. We lump together these two options because a blank form do-it-yourself Will kit doesn’t really offer you much beyond just writing your own Will on a piece of paper. As long as you state that the document is your Will, and then sign and date it, then you have met the requirements of a legal Last Will and Testament. If it is typed, then it must also be signed in the presence of two witnesses who are not beneficiaries in the Will.
The problem is, you’ll have a really poor Will that may not work. You would certainly have missed alternate provisions, maybe a residual beneficiary, you may not have set up a trust for young beneficiaries. In general, this approach only works if you are absolutely desperate.
Once you have written one Will, then just swap out the names of the Executor and Beneficiaries, and you would have your Mirror Will. But to reiterate, this is not recommended at all unless you and your partner were both pinned under a rock.
Using a professional Will writer or Solicitor
Many Will writers offer deals for couples. But the cost saving comes from not needing to consult with the second partner, and so you are more likely to be given a literal Mirror Will.
It seems that no solicitor is able to price a Will, or a Mirror Will without an asterisk and footnote. Most Solicitors emphasise that the discounted Mirror Will is only discounted if the Wills are “almost identical” or “straightforward”.
Using an online interactive service
More online services are appearing and these often offer a discount for a second Will. Unfortunately, some online servicers offer the deal through a “Joint Will” which, as we previously explained, is an outdated and generally poor approach.
Others allow you to create a Mirror Will, by just re-typing all of the information a second time. Whether or not the two Wills mirror each other is entirely up to you, but you usually receive a discount off the second.
Other online services have created a mechanism for mirroring a Will, but the design is far from elegant. One of the challenges is determining the relationship of a beneficiary to one partner based on their relationship to the other partner. One brute force approach to this, it to force you to select the relationship from an interminable list of options, so that the software can work out the “opposite”.
The process for creating a Will at LegalWills.co.uk
At LegalWills.co.uk Mirror Wills are very popular. So much so that we created a special tool to streamline the process.
The first step is to create your own Will using the MyWill service.
Our service is made up of 9 stages. These include identifying your own family situation including naming of your children, and grandchildren if appropriate.
You then have to make key appointments including guardians for young children if appropriate, and your Executor. As well as backups in case your first choice isn’t willing or able to serve.
You then get to the main part of the Will which is the distribution of your “estate”. Your estate is everything that you own including your house, car, possessions, and money.
The section for distributing your estate allows you to get quite creative. You can leave charitable bequests, make provisions for pets, and even leave unlimited specific items to particular individuals. So your signed Bobby Charlton shirt can be passed onto somebody who would really appreciate it.
Everything that remains after your specific gifts and legacies falls into what is known as your “residual estate”.
If you write your Will today, you don’t know when it will come into effect. It could be next week, it could be 40 years from now. You therefore have no idea what you will own at the time of your death when your Will is processed. Your residual estate is there to catch everything. After your funeral expenses, taxes, charitable bequests and specific legacies have been paid out, you are left with the residual estate. Which goes to a residual beneficiary (or is shared between a number of residual beneficiaries by specified shares). Often the residual beneficiary is the main beneficiary of the estate.
You then create a backup plan, which is a distribution plan in case your main beneficiary predeceases you, or is involved in a common accident.
Once you have stepped through all of the sections of the service, you can download and print your Will. The cost for the Will service is £24.95
Creating a Mirror Will at LegalWills.co.uk
At LegalWills.co.uk we have a tool specifically for creating a Mirror Will from within our Will service.
What makes the tool particularly useful is that it doesn’t blindly create a new Will from the existing data. It is really a time saving service to prepare a new Will that can reflect the first Will to the extent that is required. Nothing more, nothing less.
The Mirror Will option allows you to select the data that will be passed onto the second Will.
Remember that the criticism of Mirror Wills is that they are proposed as a shortcut for the Will writer. And the deals offered by solicitors are only honoured if the second Will is almost identical to the first.
Our Mirror Will tool is there solely for the convenience of the user. For example, it saves having to enter the name and date of birth for each of 12 grandchildren. But there is no restriction on the distribution plan.
If you wish to leave a charitable bequest, and want to take advantage of the Mirror Will functionality, you can do this. You simply choose not to transfer the charitable bequests over to the second Will.
Of course, the same applies to every section of the Will. Your “Mirror Wills” can have different Executors, provisions for pets, charitable bequests, and even different children.
But once you have transferred over the data, you would still step through the service for the second account. There may be some tweaking required for example, if you transferred over your Executor who is your brother, you would have to adjust this to your partner’s brother-in-law.
It is important to read through both final documents to ensure that they both reflect each partner’s wishes.
The cost of a Mirror Will
As we noted earlier, creating Mirror Wills through a solicitor can cost anything from £480 up. And the discounted second Will is only available if it is almost identical to the first Will.
Using the service at LegalWills.co.uk the first Will costs £24.95. The second, Mirror Will is discounted by 40 percent, and so is priced at £14.97. The total for the two Mirror Wills is £39.92. The whole process takes about 20 minutes for the first Will, and about 10 minutes for the second Mirror Will, depending on how much information is exported to the new document.
If you are interested in creating Mirror Wills using our service, get started on your first Will by going to our online Will service.
Making your documents legal
Once you have stepped through the service and paid, you can download and print your Last Will and Testament. This document then needs to be signed in the presence of two adult witnesses who are not beneficiaries in the Will. They should have nothing to gain from the contents of the Will (so the spouse of a beneficiary is not a good choice).
Your witnesses can be any two adults; friends, neighbours or co-workers, as long as they are not beneficiaries. There is no requirement for your witnesses to be of any professional standing, like a Justice of the Peace, or a Doctor. Any two competent adults can perform the duty.
Once you have signed the document, and your witnesses have both signed, then you have created your legal Last Will and Testament. There is no requirement to register the document or have it stamped by a solicitor. You just keep it somewhere safe in a place that is known and accessible by your Executor.
Once you have passed away, your Executor takes the document to the probate courts where it is accepted as your Will and filed away.
It really is a simple process. We would encourage you to write your Wills today. Please let us know if you have any questions about Mirror Wills, or generally about writing a Last Will and Testament. You can contact us in the comments below, or from the contact page.
He has over 19 years of experience helping people to write their Will and other estate planning documents. He has been interviewed by many of the major news media outlets and has contributed to articles in most leading publications. He has also contributed to a number of financial planning books.
Throughout his career, Tim has written extensively on the subject of Will writing and estate planning.
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