Making mirror wills – will your wishes be fully reflected?
If you and your partner share the same plan for what happens to your estate after each of you has passed away, then mirror wills can work for you. Basically, mirror wills are two separate wills made at the same time, naming the same beneficiaries. Often, the only difference between them is the name of the testator and perhaps their individual wishes as to their funeral arrangements. It’s common for each partner to leave everything to the other on the first death, and then to their children on the death of the surviving partner. This means that for succession purposes, it doesn’t make any difference which partner dies first.
Points to be aware of
It’s important to remember that either partner is free to change the terms of their Will at any point, and they don’t have to tell their partner if they do so. For mirror wills to work as intended there needs to be complete trust between partners. Mirror wills don’t guarantee that children or grandchildren will automatically receive any of your assets. They may not be the most appropriate solution if your assets aren’t roughly equal, or you have more complex family circumstances, which could include children from a previous relationship, or elderly dependants.
It’s important to consider what might happen if after your death, your partner were to remarry or have a family with someone else. Your partner would be free to make a new Will that passes assets that you previously owned on to their new family, and could legally ignore any wishes you may have wanted carried out, and this could include omitting beneficiaries that you would have wanted to inherit your property.
How a trust could help
By creating a trust in your Will, you can safeguard the interests of those you wish to inherit your estate. A trust could, for example, enable your partner to have use of your home or other assets during their lifetime, and on their death, these assets would then go to your chosen beneficiaries, for example your children or grandchildren. Where property is concerned, you might need to change the terms of ownership to safeguard your wishes.
Changing the way you own your property
If you own your home with your partner as Joint Tenants, then on your death the property will automatically pass to your partner, regardless of any instructions you leave in your Will. However, if you change the ownership so that you are Tenants in Common, then you will each own a half share of the property, and you are each able to leave your share to whom you choose in your Will.
Later life care issues
Problems can occur if you have mirror wills and leave everything to your partner and they need nursing or residential care later in life. The Local Authority will make an assessment regarding fees, and if your partner has more that £23,250 in assets, then they will be required to pay for their care. This could mean that the property you owned together has to be sold, and could mean there is little left in the estate to pass on.
However, if the home you owned together is held as Tenants in Common, then again you can leave your half share in trust to your partner, for their use during their lifetime with it ultimately passing to your chosen beneficiaries. This would mean that the Local Authority couldn’t take the value of the share of the property you owned into consideration when assessing fees, as it doesn’t belong to your partner.
Getting the right advice for your needs
It’s always important to get the right advice when thinking about making or updating your Will. We can help ensure that your wishes are correctly documented and that your Will contains the provisions needed to ensure that when you die, the interests of your beneficiaries are adequately protected. If you’d like to discuss your Will, then please do call us on 0330 221 8855.