When it comes to making their last wills, many couples (both married and unmarried) tend to share a common or joint objective in terms of how they would like to see their property distributed after they have passed away. More often than not, they would simply like mirror wills to ensure that certain of their family, friends and favourite charities are provided for in accordance with their means. In order to achieve these joint objectives, however, couples need to ensure that their distribution plans are ‘in sync’ with each other by using mirror wills. In other words, they need to ensure that their mirror last wills and other estate planning devices work in harmony with each other to achieve their joint objectives.
When it comes to making a last will and testament, spouses and partners (each called a ‘testator’) can usually chose to make each of the following types of wills:
• make a standard will;
• make a mirror will; or
• make a joint will.
Each of these types of will is described briefly below.
A standard will is a last will and testament that has been prepared by one person and deals with the distribution of that person’s assets and estate only. It does not, on its face, take into account any provisions which that person’s spouse or partner may have made in their last will. However, it may of course make provision for that person’s spouse or partner to receive gifts under their legal will in the normal way.
A mirror will is a last will & testament in which a testator makes a last will which has provisions almost identical to that or their spouse or partner’s last will. In many cases, these types of last will provide that all the testator’s assets will be left to the other spouse or partner if the testator dies first, and if both spouses or partners die together then to named beneficiaries. Apart from the fact that the wills of each spouse or partner are almost identical, each mirror will is made by the spouses/partners on separate documents and can be revoked by the spouse/partner making it at any time without the knowledge or consent of their spouse or partner.
A joint will is a single document made by two spouses or partners setting out how their property and assets are to be distributed following their deaths. In many cases, joint wills simply provide that when one of the spouses/partners dies, their assets will transfer to the other or to named beneficiaries under the will. In addition, joint wills also set out details as to what will happen to the assets held by the surviving spouse or partner when he or she dies.
This manner in which the will provides for the distribution of the surviving spouse/partner’s estate is extremely important because when the first spouse or partner dies, the joint will becomes irrevocable. In other words, it cannot be changed by the surviving spouse or partner in any way. This inability of the surviving spouse/partner to change the joint will after the death of the other spouse/partner therefore places enormous restrictions on the surviving spouse or partner. Even where the circumstances may warrant a change being made to the will, the survivor is powerless to do so. This can be all the more problematic where the spouses/partners die a number of years apart. It is for this reason that we do not ordinarily recommend the use of joint wills and suggest the use of two separate mirror wills in its place.
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For more information on wills, check out some of our other articles on wills in our Learning Center.
If you would prefer a more in-depth understanding of wills and to learn how to make your own, check out our book How to Make a Last Will & Testament. “Make Your Own Last Will and Testament” includes a plain English review of the matters you need to consider when making a will, and includes all of the instructions and template forms necessary to make your own will. It will show you how to leave money and property to your loved ones, avoid intestacy, appoint guardians for your children, save on legal fees and probate, much more.
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