What are Mirror Wills and Why are They Important for Married Couples?

When it comes to estate planning, UK couples often turn to mirror wills. But what exactly are these “reciprocal” wills and why are they so widely used? Discover if mirror wills might be the right fit for you and your spouse’s needs.

Bro sits at a table in front of a set of french doors with sunlight radiating in. two wills sit side by side in front of him to illustrate the concept of Mirror Wills. In the midground, two tables sit either side of the central line of the image and show mirrored objects.
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Regarding estate planning, married couples in the UK often create mirror wills. But what exactly are they, and why are they such a popular choice?

Mirror Wills for UK Couples

In this article, we’ll explore the basic details of mirror wills to help you determine whether they may be right for you and your spouse.

What is a Mirror Will?

A mirror will, also known as a reciprocal will, is commonly used by married couples or civil partners in England and Wales. Each spouse creates a nearly identical will in a mirror will, leaving their assets to the surviving spouse when they pass away. The wills “mirror” each other in their provisions and intentions.

The critical characteristic of mirror wills is that the surviving spouse inherits the entire estate upon the first partner’s death. Then, when the second spouse dies, the estate is distributed to the beneficiaries named in both wills, such as the couple’s children. This ensures that both partners’ final wishes are carried out.

Why Choose Mirror Wills?

There are several reasons why mirror wills are an attractive option for many married couples:

  1. Simplicity: Mirror Wills provide a straightforward way for couples to ensure their assets ultimately pass to their chosen heirs, usually their children, after both spouses have passed away. The symmetry makes the estate administration process more streamlined.
  2. Mutual agreement: Creating mirror wills encourages open discussion between spouses about their final wishes and estate planning goals. This helps ensure both partners are on the same page.
  3. Cost-effective: Since the wills are nearly identical, mirror wills can often be drafted more efficiently than two completely separate wills, potentially saving on legal fees. However, each spouse should still have their own will drafted.
  4. Protecting assets for children: Mirror Wills help ensure that if the surviving spouse remarries after their partner’s death, assets will still pass to the couple’s children from their original marriage rather than to a new spouse. The wills can also be drafted to provide for the surviving spouse during their lifetime while still preserving the ultimate inheritance for the kids.
  5. Inheritance Tax planning: With proper drafting, mirror wills can be structured to use both spouses’ Nil Rate Band allowances, potentially saving on Inheritance Tax. The Nil Rate Band is the threshold below which an estate has no Inheritance Tax to pay.
This artwork captures the moment of careful consideration and unity between partners as they plan for the future with their solicitor, highlighting the significance of mirror wills in their estate planning.

When One Spouse Changes Their Will

It’s important to note that mirror wills are still legally treated as two separate wills. This means that either spouse can change or revoke their own will without the other spouse’s consent. There is no legal obligation to keep the wills mirrored perpetually.

This flexibility allows each spouse to update their will as needed. However, problems can arise if one spouse changes their will after the first spouse dies. The surviving partner could completely alter the estate distribution plan, excluding the beneficiaries named in the original mirror wills.

This risk leads some couples to consider other options like mutual wills or trust planning to make their agreed-upon plans more permanent and legally binding. However, for many spouses, simply having open discussions about their agreed estate plans and maintaining transparency if changes need to be made is sufficient.

The Pros and Cons of Mirror Wills

To summarise, here’s a quick look at the advantages and disadvantages of mirror wills for couples to consider:

Pros:

  • A simple, straightforward way to pass assets to chosen beneficiaries
  • Encourages agreement between spouses on estate plans
  • Cost-effective to draft compared to totally separate wills
  • Helps protect children’s inheritance
  • Can save on Inheritance Tax with proper use of allowances

Cons:

  • Each spouse can change their will independently
  • No guarantee that the surviving spouse will adhere to the original plans
  • May be insufficient for complex estates or blended family situations
  • Requires open communication and transparency between spouses

Is a Mirror Will Right for You?

While mirror wills are a popular and sensible choice for many couples, they aren’t right for everyone. Here are a few questions to discuss with your spouse and a legal professional when deciding if they fit your estate planning needs:

  1. Do you and your spouse agree on how you want your assets distributed after you both pass away? They work best when couples have a shared vision. If not, you may need more customised estate planning.
  2. Do you have children from previous relationships? Blended family situations often require more nuanced estate planning to ensure all children are provided for per your wishes. Simple mirror wills may not offer enough customisation.
  3. Do you have a high net worth that may be subject to Inheritance Tax? While mirror wills can provide some tax planning opportunities, very high-value estates often utilise trusts for more robust tax efficiency.
  4. Do you want to ensure your estate is distributed according to your current wishes, even if your spouse’s wishes change? If so, you may want to explore options that are more difficult for the surviving spouse to alter, like mutual wills or a trust.
  5. Do you wish to leave everything to your spouse? You’ll need more customised wills if you want to name other beneficiaries to inherit portions of your estate directly.

In Conclusion

Mirror wills are often a fitting solution for married couples in England and Wales who want a simple, affordable way to ensure their assets pass to their spouse and children. However, they aren’t ideal for every situation. Open spousal communication is vital to their success.

To determine if mirror wills are appropriate for your family’s unique needs, it’s best to consult with a qualified solicitor or professional will writer. They can advise on the various types of wills and estate planning tools available, allowing you to make an informed choice in securing your legacy.

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