While an individual will gives you complete control of your wishes after you die, for committed couples creating two wills can sometimes be an expensive process. There are other forms of wills that you and your partner can consider if each of you want the same thing after your death, i.e. passing your combined estate to your partner and eventually to your children and/or the same beneficiaries when your partner dies or you both die at the same time.
- These options can be considered for couples that are married or in a civil union, domestic partnership, or other similar formal relationships recognized in their state.
- The steps to create these wills are the same as those found in “What should be included in a will.”
If you opt for one of these wills and have children, you can use it to name a guardian for minor children.
- If your designated guardian is not able to manage the child’s finances, you may also choose to name an executor to manage them.
- Except for a joint will, you are not required to agree and could pick different guardians in your wills.
- You could also do this with a codicil/addendum that can be altered without updating the entire will.
Although partners usually name the other as executor of their will, you can name another person if you feel your partner would not be the best choice as your executor. Even if you name your partner, you should have an alternate executor in case they become unable to or you both die at the same time.
The Mirror Will
One option for you and your partner is to create “mirror” or reciprocal wills. This could save time and money, since once you have created your will, it is a simple process to create a mirror will for your partner by just substituting their name for yours.
Like everything else, there are many things to consider before making a decision, the most important of which is that your partner is free to change or revoke their will at any time, without your consent or knowledge. For example, they can add or change beneficiaries either before your death without telling you or after your death.
Using a Mirror Will
Mirror wills would only be an option under very specific circumstances.
They are best considered when all of these are true.
Although a will is not the best place to leave funeral and burial wishes, since the will may not be read until after these happen, each partner can include their own preferences.
When to Avoid a Mirror Will
Given the limited conditions where mirror wills are useful, it is not surprising that they are not appropriate for most couples.
Many types of relationships are possible and mirror wills are not the best options for anything but the simplest relationships.
The bottom line is that you want to avoid a situation where your partner could opt to change their will to reflect their preferences, either before or after your death
If you now have a blended family, many complications could affect the will-making process.
For these kinds of complex relationships, you should probably create two individual wills that address all the unique circumstances of your lives.
Mutual or Married Will
If you would still like to avoid creating individual wills, but are concerned about the ultimate distribution or your estate, consider mutual will, especially if you are remarried or if you want to protect your children if your surviving spouse remarries.
Although very similar to mirror wills, mutual wills contain additional terms that make it mutually binding, i.e. you must each carry out the others wishes stated in their will.
There are a number of other differences between mutual and mirror wills.
The Joint Will
Unlike the previous wills, a joint will is a single legal document, usually for married couples, that you both sign. It is rarely used these days and may even be prohibited in some states.
Here are the basic details about joint wills.
The will contains an agreed upon distribution of your jointly owned property, usually to your surviving spouse.
They may also include instructions from each of you about how your separate property is to be distributed.
The will can only be updated or revoked by mutual agreement while you are both alive.
Once you die the will is irrevocabile, since your surviving spouse could only change it with your approval, which you are not around to give.
Once your surviving spouse dies the estate goes automatically to your children, even if your spouse remarried or created a new will. They will not be able to disinherit your mutual children.
While on the surface, the joint will looks to be an effective way to assure your children get their inheritance, the irrevocable nature of the will can have unintended consequences for both your surviving spouse and children.
Your surviving spouse must adhere to any terms in the will until their own death. For example, they would be unable to:
Because the terms of the will are inflexible, the beneficiaries can’t use the assets in other ways, even if circumstances arise that would need it. For example, your surviving spouse would not be able to:
If they remarry they would be unable to leave any of the jointly owned property from your will to their new spouse, stepchildren, or in-laws.
Can my husband and I make a joint will? NOLO website. Accessed: October 22, 2019.
Hykel Cuddy R. Simple Estate Planning Tool for Couples: The Mirror Will. legalzoom website. Posted: May 2011. Accessed: October 22, 2019.
Joint Wills. FindLaw website. Accessed: October 22, 2019.
Kagan J. Mutual Will. Investopedia website. Updated: May 29, 2018. Accessed: October 22, 2019.
Mirror Wills. Legal Match website. Updated: September 10, 2019. Accessed: October 22, 2019.
Mirror wills. RocketLawyer website. Accessed: October 22, 2019.
Mutual Wills and Estate Planning. Curran Law Firm website. Posted: February 2018. Accessed: October 22, 2019.