It is common practice for couples to leave everything to each other in their Wills, with the estate passing on to their children when the surviving partner dies. However, this arrangement – known as Mirror Wills – may not protect your children from losing their inheritance in the future.
There are several reasons why couples choose to make Mirror Wills. Where property is jointly owned and the assets shared, it makes sense that everything will pass to the surviving partner. In this type of Will, the respective partners are usually named as executor and also the sole beneficiary on the first death. Both Wills also leave the same inheritance to the same beneficiaries on the death of the second partner.
Mirror Wills are also much less complex than having two bespoke Wills – the wishes set out in each document being identical – and can therefore be a more cost-effective solution.
Before making this type of Will you should take into account the following:
- You must keep both Wills fully up to date – if a change is made to one Will it must be made to the other.
- If you create new Wills, you must ensure any previous Wills are destroyed to avoid future confusion.
- You should include at least one substitute executor to ensure the Will is still valid if both partners were to die at the same time.
Mirror Wills don’t guarantee your children will inherit your estate
There are a number of disadvantages to using Mirror Wills, especially where a couple has children.
Here’s where the risks to your children’s inheritance come in:
Firstly, as the Wills are separate legal documents, either party is free to change their Will at any time. Having this type of Will requires a huge amount of trust between partners and it’s worth bearing in mind that neither is legally obliged to tell the other if they make changes.
Secondly, if your surviving spouse meets a new partner after you die, they could feasibly change their Will to pass their estate to their new partner. This would include the half of the estate that they inherited from you.
If your spouse did not make a new Will but married their new partner, their existing Will would be void anyway. In the event that they died without having a valid Will in place, the new spouse would be the full beneficiary under intestacy laws. They would then be free to pass on the estate as they wish and your children could miss out completely.
Separation through divorce does not invalidate a Will so it is vital that you review your Will and make a new one if needed.
Protect your estate by using Trusts alongside a Will
To ensure your estate is passed on as you intended, you may want to consider using a Trust in your Will rather than leaving your estate outright to your partner. This will give you the option to leave your share of property and other assets to the Trust and stop them being passed on to anyone else.
Depending on how the Trust is set up, the surviving partner will still be able to benefit from the estate (i.e. continue living in the property) until they die or remarry, after which it would pass on to your named beneficiaries.
Such an arrangement means that, even if they were to change their Will after your death, the surviving partner cannot re-direct assets from your estate.
If you don’t have any Will or other plans in place
If you were to die without any Will in place, your spouse or partner (if you have a Civil Partnership) will automatically inherit your estate. If the surviving partner later remarries, your estate could be passed on to the new spouse and diverted away from your own children.
If you are not married, the estate will be dealt with under intestacy laws which can cause your loved ones further stress, uncertainty and expense.
Arrange a free Will consultation with our Client Relationship Manager, Sharon Rigden, to discuss the best way to structure a new Will or to review an existing Will.
Your session will take place at a time to suit you by telephone or video call and there is no obligation to act on the advice given.