21st December 2017

Mirror Wills – A Word of Caution

Mirror Wills or Joint Wills are legal documents where the contents of one Will are almost exactly replicated in the other.

They often specify that when one party dies they leave their estate to the surviving partner and upon the surviving partner’s death, the estate passes onto any surviving children or named beneficiaries.

Mirror Wills seem like an attractive proposition in that they are more cost-effective than individual Wills (as they are identical save for the names and some minor details), but they do come with a strong word of warning in that as they are separate legal documents and each party’s Will is theirs alone, either party is allowed to make changes to their Will at any time – and without having to inform the other party.

So what happens if one party changes their Will without the other one knowing or subsequently changes their Will after their partner has died or remarries? For example they may decide that their new partner or children from a new relationship should inherit their estate. The harsh consequence could be that the wishes of the first partner who passed away could then be completely ignored and that any children that he or she had wanted to inherit might receive nothing at all or that the estate becomes embroiled in legal action.

As an alternative to Mirror Wills some professionals may advise couples to execute Mutual Wills. These Wills are contractually binding upon the couple so the Wills should not be changed without the specific permission of the other person and after the death of one of them the survivor is contractually bound not to alter their own Will. Unfortunately there are many downsides to this type of Will as enforceability can be difficult and the arrangement is inflexible, therefore in our experience it is a rare circumstance where Mutual Wills are the most suitable approach.

Mirror Wills offer far greater flexibility and in the majority of circumstances are invariably preferred over Mutual Wills.

If you have a Mirror Will or are considering getting a Mirror Will, there are ways of protecting your estate via various trust mechanisms. This ensures that when you die, your partner is able to benefit from your assets during their lifetime but would not be able to redirect any assets to others and these would not be accessible by third parties.

For more information on Wills and advice on how to protect your individual assets, please contact Lucy Head on T: 01892 502 372 or E: lhead@bussmurton.co.uk

Lucy Head

Lucy Head
Associate Solicitor