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Mirror or Mutual Wills – What’s the Difference?
When couples think about making their Wills, invariably, they do them together. In most cases, they want the same thing. They’re keen to sort out their affairs so they’re cared for when one of them passes away, and they broadly agree about what to do about their children and who should be left an inheritance.
Frequently, clients ask us whether they should have a Mirror or a Mutual Will. Similar sounding terms but with very different legal meanings. And, as family life today is rarely straightforward, it’s essential to understand what’s meant by ‘Mirror’ and ‘Mutual’ Wills.
Mirror Wills are separate documents but with similar content. Everything is left to one another and then to the children.
- Unmarried Couples: For unmarried couples, Mirror Wills can provide (financial) peace of mind for the survivor (and their children). For example, suppose you jointly own a property. If one dies, the property only passes automatically to the other if you hold the property as joint tenants. A Mirror Will help those who own a property as tenants in common.
- Changed Circumstances: The terms of a Mirror Will can be changed or revoked at any time, including after death. This flexibility can help those who need to update their Will after divorce or remarriage.
- Changes Without Agreement: This flexibility can also create issues. If one person passes away and the survivor remarries, they can change their Will to benefit their new partner and disinherit their children.
- No Notification Required: Furthermore, changes can be made when both parties are alive, as the documents aren’t legally linked, and there’s no obligation to notify each other.
Life Interest Trusts
- Protecting Assets: Trusts are usually considered when planning anyone’s estate. A life interest trust, for example, can be written into your Will and provide future security for your partner and your children.
- One Size Does Not Fit All: Everyone’s circumstances are different, and this area of law can be complicated, especially regarding tax thresholds and Inheritance Tax (IHT) implications.
Like Mirror Wills, Mutual Wills are two separate documents. However, Mutual Wills create a form of trust and are often governed by an agreement setting out what can or cannot be changed. Neither person can revoke or make changes without the agreement of the other and without breaching that trust.
Furthermore, on the first person’s death, the Mutual Will Agreement provides some security for the beneficiaries that can be enforced through the courts if the trust is breached. However, they are not as secure as using a Trust on the first death.
Binding Contract: Superficially, this may seem sensible. If either person makes a change without an agreement, the courts can legally enforce the original agreement. Also, following the death of the first person, the survivor is bound by their agreement and can be sued by beneficiaries for breach of contract.
Totally Restrictive: Today, Mutual Wills are rare. They are very restrictive for the surviving spouse or partner. They can’t make changes if their circumstances change. Also, all the beneficiaries must agree before any changes are made.
When you make your (individual) Will, take a joint approach. Discuss all your options with an experienced solicitor in detail and consider the implications carefully. Our specialist team has many years of experience advising clients about making their Wills. Please contact us for further information, advice, or an instant quotation. We’re here to help.
Please note that all views, comments or opinions expressed are for information only and do not constitute and should not be interpreted as being comprehensive or as giving legal advice. No one should seek to rely or act upon, or refrain from acting upon, the views, comments or opinions expressed herein without first obtaining specialist, professional or independent advice. While every effort has been made to ensure accuracy, Curtis Parkinson cannot be held liable for any errors, omissions or inaccuracies.