Mirror Wills are nearly identical Wills (hence the “mirror” term), usually made by married couples, but which can exist between any sort of partners or pairings. Mirror Wills usually leave an estate to a surviving spouse, for example, and upon the spouse’s death, to any surviving children.
As a term of art, Mirror Wills generally provide for the following: 1) There are two parties involved; 2) Wills are made by both parties in agreed terms; 3) The wills represent an agreement that both parties will leave their estates in accordance with the agreed terms; 4) The death of one party occurs without that party having substantially altered his/her Will.
There is no such thing as a “Joint Will,” so when a couple has a joint interest, such as the passing of an estate to a surviving partner and subsequently to surviving children, two almost identical Wills are invoked. “Nearly identical” is the term usually employed because nothing in this world is quite perfect. As but one example, even mirror Wills have to take into account that one spouse may die with children, in a plane crash for example, and with no surviving children, the potential surviving partner may have an idea as to who the further named beneficiaries are to be, and the other partner may not have had that stipulation or care.
Mirror Wills are a solid way to create estate planning for the heads of the household, and they provide efficiency and surety: Less paperwork, less expense, and the solid comfort to spouses that their wishes are in sync, documented, and will be carried out within the framework of their mirrored desires. As a further measure of comfort, the partners can be both sole beneficiary and sole executor to the other.
However, when partners are each other’s beneficiary and executor, it is imperative to add at minimum an extra executor and beneficiary to each Will. This is a safeguard for the estate in case both partners die together, or in the space of a very short period of time. You may choose to have different second executors and beneficiaries in each will, but naming different guardians can lead to problems, absent very clear directions. Most people, in the spirit of “mirroring,” will choose to have the same person serve as executor and beneficiary in both wills.
Mirror wills are a popular way to ensure that two people’s wishes – usually married, but not always – are carried out in accordance with agreed upon wishes.