Mirror Wills

Guide to making a Mirror Will with Redwood Financial

Mirror Wills are one of many Estate Planning solutions available in England and Wales and provided they are set up in the most efficient and effective way, Mirror Wills are a great way to put some basic Estate Planning protections in place.

However, there are some complexities to be aware of when considering if a Mirror Will is the right solution for you and your partner that can make this type of Estate Planning disastrous in the longer term. We would always recommend you seek professional legal advice from Redwood before you put your Mirror Wills in place.

What are Mirror Wills?

Most couples want to leave everything they own to their surviving partner or spouse if they die first. Mirror Wills are drafted in a way that makes each of the clauses within them identical and reciprocal in each partner’s Will: effectively ‘mirroring’ the couple wishes.

For example, Mr Redwood’s Will might specify: ‘I give everything to my wife upon my death, but if she dies before me it goes to my children.’

Mrs Redwood’s Will would then say: ‘I give everything to my husband upon my death, but if he dies before me it goes to my children.’

What are the benefits of having Mirror Wills?

As Mirror Wills are effectively identical Wills, they cost less to draft because the creator is effectively only doing the job once.

Mirror Wills are one of the most common purchases made from an Online Will Writing Service as they are a cost-effective, quick and relatively simple way to put some basic Estate Planning in place for both parties.

What are the risks of Mirror Wills?

From the description above about what Mirror Wills are, it is easy to understand why so many couples choose to make Mirror Wills. The concept is simple to understand and it seems totally logical to believe you are doing the best thing to protect your surviving spouse or partner should your death have preceded theirs.

1. Mirror Wills need to be kept up-to-date

While Mirror Wills are identical Wills, they are also separate documents that are created in each partner’s own name. That means they must be kept up to date, with changes in one Will also needing to be made in the other. This could start to make them more costly over time than first thought.

2. Changes can be made to each Mirror Will individually 

By being totally independent legal documents, either party is free to make changes to their Mirror Will without ever informing the other. In a worst-case scenario, one person could re-write their Will, totally exclude the other party or jointly agreed on family members who were named as beneficiaries on the original Mirror Will, and no one including the surviving partner would know until the point of death.

3. Personal wealth could be used for care fees

Let’s consider our earlier example again, with Mr Redwood’s Will specifying: ‘I give everything to my wife upon my death, but if she dies before me it goes to my children,’ and Mrs Redwood’s Will saying: ‘I give everything to my husband upon my death, but if he dies before me it goes to my children.’

Again this seems perfectly reasonable and what we would probably all want to see happen with our own assets and wealth when we pass. But what if Mr Redwood needs to go into care in his later years? Maybe he survives a further 5 years in care before dying and the Will becoming effective.

Without the financial means to fund his care during his remaining life, Mrs Redwood will be faced with the prospect of a debt being rolled up against Mr Redwood’s share of the Estate until his death.

It will shock many people to learn that under the provisions of the 1993 Community Care Act, the Local Authority has the power to use peoples’ finances and assets towards the cost of their care, where a person’s total assets (including the value of their home) amount to more than £23,250 (£26,250 in Scotland or £24,000 in Wales).

It is only after this debt is paid from Mr Redwood’s Estate that any remaining assets will be divided up as instructed in the Mirror Will if in fact there is anything left at this point!

By leaving your Estate to your partner, both your share and their share of the assets will be used to pay for Care Fees and could result in all of the wealth being whittled away and out of the family bloodline.

4. Mirror Wills can cause inheritance complications

We have already talked about how a couple’s Mirror Wills are theirs alone and that either party is free to amend or replace their Will at any time. One of the more surprising risks is a surviving partner re-writing their Will later after death, completely excluding the deceased’s surviving children, family and beneficiaries from any inheritance.

Using our example of Mr Redwood’s Will again, in which he specified: ‘I give everything to my wife upon my death, but if she dies before me it goes to my children,’ and Mrs Redwood’s Will saying: ‘I give everything to my husband upon my death, but if he dies before me it goes to my children.’

Now consider that this was a second marriage for Mr Redwood and he had children from his first marriage that he expected to receive a share of his Estate after his and Mrs Redwood’s death. Now lets he passes away in his early 50’s and that after a few years, Mrs Redwood meets a new partner and remarries. Time goes by a few more years and her relationship with her step-children from her marriage to Mr Redwood falls by the wayside. Mrs Redwood is perfectly and legally entitled to write a new Will that leaves everything she owns, include the inheritance she received from Mr Redwood upon his death, to her new husband and indeed anyone else she wants to leave it to. She can effectively write Mr Redwood’s children out of any rightful inheritance!

Mitigating the Risks of Mirror Wills

The great news is that with the right professional legal advice like that provided by us here at Redwood can mitigate these risks and create the protections you and your partner always envisaged when you embarked on your Estate Planning journey.

Trust Wills allow you and your partner to leave your respective shares of property, money and assets to a Trust rather than a named person or persons. Through the terms of the Trust, you can allow the surviving partner to benefit from the Trusts assets. While they don’t own these assets in their own name, they can use them as they see fit until their own passing.

At that point, their assets are valued and totalled for Probate and any outstanding debts are settles before Probate is granted. That includes any assets used from the Trust which must be repaid as if it were a debt. If there is insufficient value left in the Estate to settle the debt, any balance is written off and the debt is rescinded. Any value in or paid back to the Trust is then shared as per the couples original wishes detailed in their Mirror Wills.

Owning your property in the right way

For this type of Trust Will to be valid with a Mirror Will, requires that the couple home is held as Tenants in Common rather than as Joint Tenants.

By being held as Tenants in Common, each partner holds a distinct and defined share of the property, usually 50% each. So, following the death of one person, the other retains their own 50% share of the property in their own right, and the deceased share can pass to the Trust Will for protection.

Had it remained as Joint Tennants, the surviving spouse would have received the deceased’s share of the Estate directly, inflating their own Estate value and increasing the risk and likelihood of future attacks on their Estate value through Inheritance Tax, Care Fee Assessment and future relationship breakdowns, marriages and deaths.

Why make a Mirror Will with Redwood Financial?

At Redwood, we understand the complexities inherent in all aspects of Estate Planning, including Mirror Wills and how to mitigate the risks across a broad selection of Estate and Financial Planning solutions.

Although a couple’s wishes may be identical at the time of drafting their Mirror Wills, we can ensure that the Wills are created to provide longevity and a robustness that respects the original intentions of the couple when they decided to draft their Wills.

We have award-winning extensive experience in the field of Estate Planning, achieved over decades of helping our Clients to grown, protect and enjoy their wealth.

How can I make a Mirror Will with Redwood?

Our starting point for any Estate Planning journey is education. We are passionate about helping our Clients to understand this topic in detail yet in plain English way before they ever agree to work with us. Our Philosophy is simple: you can’t make an informed decision without feeling informed!

Our free Wills, Trusts & Estate Planning Webinar is the best place to understand the foundations of Estate Planning.

If you have any existing Estate Planning, including Mirror Wills that you would like reviewed, we also offer a free Will Review Meeting.

Once you are ready to start your Estate Planning journey to can book an Initial Meeting with a professional adviser, which we can offer as an In-Office, Telephone or Video Meeting.

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Steven Blofield
Steve is the Director and Senior Estate Planner at Redwood Financial. He helps Clients to manage and grow their wealth and protect their estate.
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Mirror Wills Explained

What is a Mirror Will?

Mirror Wills are virtually identical Wills where one person in a couple leaves their Estate to the other in the event of their death. The most common Mirror Wills are when one Spouse leaves everything to their Spouse and then to their children. The other Spouse’s Will is similar, in that they leave everything to the other Spouse and then to the children.

The result is that when one of them dies, the other receives all the wealth, and upon the second death, the children inherit the assets.

When should Mirror Wills be written?

Mirror Wills should be written as soon as possible, particularly if you have children. If you are engaged, in a marriage or civil partnership and both of you want your assets to go to the same people when you pass away, you should consider making Mirror Wills. If neither partner wants the same thing and you have different beneficiaries, then you can both make individual Wills.

Is a Mirror Will a good idea?

A Mirror Will is a good solution for many people. The main advantage is that if a couple have similar wishes about what happens to their estate when they pass away, a Mirror Will is quick and easy to set up. This is because although two legal documents are drawn up, they are almost identical in every way, often making Mirror Wills far more cost effective than having two separate Wills drafted.

A couple may have similar wishes, but each person can still stipulate their own preference for who they would like to appoint as their executors, trustees, or guardians.

There can be Complications with Mirror Will though

People are often mistaken in thinking that their wishes will be honoured when they die, however Mirror Wills can be changed at any time, without the other person knowing. For example, if one person in a couple passes away and the survivor remarries, they can change their Will and leave everything to their new spouse, rather than their children.

Mirror Wills can also be changed when both partners are still alive. The Wills are not legally linked so if one person changes their Will, the other person does not legally need to be notified. Although a couple’s wishes may be the same, their respective Wills are theirs alone to alter as they choose.

Complications can also arise if children remarry, get a divorce, or encounter financial difficulties, as sometimes this can mean assets pass sideways outside of the family.

People often fail to realise what happens to their Estate if their surviving partner ends up needing care later in life. Under the Community Care Act of 1993, the Local Authority has the power to use peoples’ finances and assets to pay for their care. This means that should one person die and then the other becomes ill and requires care, their children may not benefit from the estate at all.

Avoiding the complications caused by Mirror Wills

If a couple’s assets include property, then one of the easiest ways to avoid complications caused by Mirror Wills, is to make sure that they are ‘tenants in common’ rather than ‘joint tenants’.

As ‘joint tenants’, when one person dies, the surviving joint owner becomes automatically entitled to 100% of the property immediately without the need for the property to pass through the deceased’s estate. That might sound great, but in passing assets this way leaves them unprotected.

By becoming ‘tenants in common’, each person owns a 50% share of the property that they can leave it to whoever they like, typically we would recommend a Trust. The Trust can be for the benefit of the surviving spouse, your children and grandchildren, this means the survivor can remain living at the property after their partner’s death, but should they need care later in life, the Local Authority can usually only take fees from their 50% share of the property. Making sure the other 50% value of the property remains protected.

Creating a Trust within a Will and appointing a trustee(s) to look after assets can help ensure that your estate gets passed on to the right beneficiaries at the right time and it stays there.

Although creating Trusts in a Will may be a little more complex, it is worth it in the long run, as it makes passing on your estate much more protective process.

There are alternatives to Mirror Wills such as Mutual Wills, which are similar to Mirror Wills, with the added caveat that they cannot be changed without mutual agreement of both parties and after first death become legally binding. Because no-one has a crystal ball, we never recommend taking out a Mutual Will, because it ties your hands and gives you no flexibility to change your wishes in the future.

Get expert advice on Will Writing

Mirror Wills most certainly have some advantages and it is always better to have a Will than no Will at all. However, there are several things to consider in ensuring that Mirror Wills suit you, so it is best to seek legal advice to find the best solution for you and your circumstances.

Why should I make a Mirror Will?

Mirror Wills are remarkably similar documents drafted for couples that mutually agree to leave their whole Estate to the last surviving partner if one of them passes away. By agreeing to a Mirror Will, you are protecting your partner’s financial future (as if you are unmarried, they would not necessarily be legally entitled to inherit your Estate).

A Mirror Will can include instructions for both parties’ Estates to be left to any surviving children should the couple die at the same time. If you have any children under the age of 18, you can appoint a Guardian for them should both parents pass away.

Usually, the partners are the sole beneficiary in each other’s Mirror Will and are also each other’s Executor. In the case of Mirror Wills, we recommend additional Executors are named so that both partners’ wishes can be carried out if they die at the same time. You can also appoint trustees that will protect your estate until your children are old enough to inherit it.

PROS of Mirror Wills

  • Your Estate goes to someone you want it to go to, without it you risk it going outside the family or worst still, to The Crown!
  • You can provide for your partner, so they have financial security in the event of your death
  • You can provide for your children and appoint guardians for any that are under 18yrs should this be needed
  • Mirror Wills can be more cost effective than creating totally separate Wills for each partner

Cons of Mirror Wills

  • Either partner can change their Will at any time and not tell the other partner
  • Your wishes may not be respected if your partner changes their Will after your death, e.g. they re-marry and cut your children from a previous relationship out of the entitlement you wanted them to have
  • Simply leaving everything to the other partner could give them or any children an Inheritance Tax problem in later years
  • Passing your assets to your partner leaves them open to losing those assets to care fees, divorce, or bankruptcy, meaning less of a legacy to your children and grandchildren.

Do you have a Free Mirror Will Template?

We do not offer a free Will template as we believe that you should always seek professional advice prior to embarking on any Estate Planning. We are pleased to offer a Complimentary Will Review Service, to review any existing planning documents you have in place and advise you on what type of Will you have and if it meets your needs.

We also deliver FREE 45 Minute Estate Planning Webinars where you can learn much more about true Estate Planning including Wills and Lasting Powers of Attorney.

Can Mirror Wills be changed?

Yes! Either party can amend their Mirror Will at any time, and this can be both a blessing and a curse!

While it is often helpful to have the flexibility to be able to change your Will, with or without your partner’s knowledge or consent, it can also lead to the unintended consequences of your wishes not be followed if you should die first.

For example, you and your partner may have children from previous relationships who you want to receive a share of your Estate. However, the surviving partner is perfectly entitled to change their Will and cut your beneficiaries out of their share after you have died.

This is why we recommend Client consider the use of a Protective Will, which involves the use of Trusts to make sure your planning is flexible enough to change with your changing wishes, but robust enough to ensure your wishes are followed after you have died.

Do Mirror Wills have to go to probate?

Regardless of the type or validity of your Will that exists, all Estates valued above the Probate threshold will need to go to Probate. Mirror Wills are treated in the same way as any other Will. Depending on your estate value and how the assets are owned you might not legally need probate, but we always recommend you do, as this gives you a legal audit trail relating to the first death, which is very important in claiming valuable Inheritance Tax Allowances on second death.

What is the difference between a Single Will and a Mirror Will?

A single Will is designed for the use of an individual person only and are not designed with couples in mind who may want to have similar clauses drafted into their Wills.

A Mirror Will is specifically crafted with married couples, civil partners, and unmarried couples in mind. Each Will can have slightly differing clauses and wishes but will predominantly ‘mirror’ the other partners Will.

What is the average cost of a Mirror Will?

Our Mirror Wills start from just £79 inc. VAT for a couple using our Online Will Writing Service.

Many Clients prefer to meet with us to have their Estate Planning professionally crafted, which can include the creation of professionally drafted Mirror Wills. The costs will depend on the complexity of the Estate Planning required.

How can Redwood Financial help with writing your Mirror Will

We have a comprehensive range of Will Writing Services available, from our basic Online Will Writing Service for single or mirror Wills to a fully bespoke individual Estate Planning Service that can include Protective Wills, Trusts, Guardianship, Lasting Power of Attorney (LPAs), Inheritance Tax Planning and Long Term Care Fee Planning, designed to give you the peace of mind that your family members and loved ones are protected when you die.

We always encourage our Clients to start their Estate Planning journey by joining one of our Free Public Information Webinars or Seminars on the topic of Wills, Trusts and Estate Planning. This provides a great level of knowledge for Clients to then make an informed decision about what they want to achieve from their Estate Planning.

In Summary

Mirror Wills are a useful and cost-effective way to provide for you, your partner and your beneficiaries in the event of the death of one or both of you. However, they come with some risks that should be fully understood before committing to put a Mirror Will in place.

The best way to find out what Estate Planning solution might be best for you is to join our FREE 45 Minute Estate Planning Webinars or request a meeting through our Complimentary Will Review Service.

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