When planning their estate, married or unmarried couples often create “mirror” wills that essentially mirror the other's. This simple and straightforward estate planning tool allows each person to leave the bulk of their estate to the other person and the same people when both of them pass away.
However, most, is not everyone—or every circumstance. Find out more about mirror wills and whether or not this simple estate planning tool is right for you.
What is a mirror will?
Mirror wills are based on the idea that married or unmarried couples will likely have the same wishes regarding their estate. No matter which spouse dies first, the estates are handled the same way. The basic structure of a mirror will is similar to an individual last will. It bequeaths personal property to certain people, then leaves everything else to a spouse or partner, and, the spouses or partners agree on who is to receive their property when the survivor of them passes away.
Mirror wills are similar to mutual wills except that a mutual will may contain additional terms regarding how property can be distributed. Also, mutual wills usually contain a clause stating the will cannot be changed once the person dies, where mirror wills don't contain this clause.
When to use a mirror will
Mirror wills are typically used when:
- It isn’t possible to create a joint will (a single last will document that both spouses sign)
- Neither spouse has children to name as beneficiaries, and therefore must name each other as beneficiaries
- When both parties are in complete agreement as to the disposition of the property upon passing
Naming a guardian for minor children in a mirror will
Beyond planning your property distribution, mirror wills have another important role: to designate a guardian for minor children. Without naming a guardian, the court will choose for you—and don't assume it will automatically be an aunt, uncle or grandparent, or that your children will stay together. If you don't know where to start when thinking about how to pick a guardian or what types of issues to consider, check out Top 10 Considerations When Naming a Guardian in Your Will. These helpful hints provide a good starting point to help you weigh who would make best guardian—or coguardian—for your children.
While considering a possible guardian, you might also want to assess whether or not your designated guardian would also be able to manage the child's finances. A person who makes a good guardian to raise your children might not necessarily be good with money. In this case, you may opt to name a trustee to manage the children's finances.
While couples often agree on a guardian to raise their children should both spouses die, you are not required to agree and could pick different guardians in your mirror wills.
Naming an executor in a mirror will
Typically, spouses name one another as executor of each other's wills. But you can name another person if you feel your spouse can't perform the duties of the executor.
When a mirror will isn't a good fit
With all the different kinds of relationships today and the complexity of these relationships, it doesn't always work to have mirror wills. Couples may marry later in life and bring with them assets and family relationships that they will want to protect. There may be blended families with different beneficiaries. For these kinds of complex relationships, you might look into creating separate individual wills that address all the unique circumstances of your lives.
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