What you need to know about mirror wills

What exactly is a mirror will? Rachelle Nuttall, a solicitor in the Wills and Probate department at Stephensons, explains how making a mirror will can protect your partner’s financial future

Person Signing a White Document with a Black Pen

What is a mirror will?

A mirror will is a will which is effectively identical to that of a spouse or partner. They are generally the most popular option for couples when considering estate and future planning as they typically may say, for example, that the couple leaves everything to one another and then to their children.

Mirror wills are also a popular option for couples who are in a second marriage and have children from a previous relationship. This is because the couple may leave everything to one another and then to their respective children, equally allowing children from both partners to receive an equal share of assets once they have both passed away. 

Why make a mirror will?

A mirror will has the advantage of protecting your spouse or partners financial future – this can be particularly important for unmarried couples. At present, only joint assets pass by survivorship. Therefore, if an unmarried partner passes away perhaps leaving a house in joint names, but then has several bank accounts in their sole name, these will potentially pass to children or even the parents or siblings of the deceased partner (if they did not have children) under the rules of intestacy.

If a person has assets over £322,000 and does not have a will, their estate will pass under the intestacy rules. This means that the first £322,000 of their estate will pass to a surviving spouse and anything above this will be divided equally between the spouse and children (if they have them). This may put the surviving spouse in a difficult position both financially and in their relationship with their children or stepchildren.

  • For example, if the deceased spouse had a house in their sole name valued at £500,000 and little other assets, the house may need to be sold to allow the children to receive their share of the estate. This could result in the surviving spouse having to move out of their home and have an impact on them purchasing another property depending upon their financial circumstances. A mirror will would avoid any such issue.

Further, when one spouse’s estate passes entirely to the other this creates a spousal exemption in respect of inheritance tax. The second of them to pass away then has the use of their predeceased spouse’s nil rate band and residence nil rate band (the RNRB is only available if the property is to later pass to their children or direct descendants) which may reduce or completely relieve the estate of any inheritance being payable.

What are the disadvantages of mirror wills?

A potential issue to consider when creating a mirror will is that the spouse or partner could later change their will. In fact, they can change the will at any time even when both are still living without agreement or consent. There is no obligation to keep the mirror will once one spouse has passed away and this could result in children or stepchildren being left out of wills and not receiving a share of their parents assets.  Further, if the surviving spouse remarries assets could pass to the new spouse and someone unknown to the first spouse/partner who has died. It is therefore vital that you trust your spouse or partner when considering a mirror will.

What is the difference between a mirror will and a mutual will?

The alternative to a mirror will, which addresses the concern of a spouse or partner later changing the will, is a mutual will. A mutual will is a type of will in which both parties agree that they will not revoke or amend the will at a later date without the consent of the other party. Therefore, once one party dies, the survivor cannot amend the will.

Mutual wills therefore differ to a mirror will as they do not allow changes to be made following a person’s death or during their lifetime without consent. A mutual will can be beneficial to a person who perhaps has children from a previous relationship as their spouse cannot later go back on their word and revoke the will as they can do with a mirror will. 

Many do not choose to create mutual wills due to their restrictive nature; they do not appreciate changes that can occur in everyday life, such as remarriage and family disputes. Mutual wills go against the principle that a person has the testamentary freedom to change their will at any point during their lifetime (if they have capacity). Therefore, strong evidence must be provided to prove that the intention was for the wills to be mutual.

A will does not need to state that it is a mutual will, nor does it need to be in writing. Therefore, a person must be careful that a will is not taken to be a mutual will if this is not their intention. If instructing a solicitor to prepare wills, you should always insist that the intention to create mutual wills is clearly set out and established within both mutual wills, if this is your wish.

About the author

Rachelle Nuttall is a solicitor in the Wills and Probate department at Stephensons

See also

What you need to know about the right of survivorship

What are the intestacy rules in England and Wales?

How do nil rate bands reduce inheritance tax?

The duties of an executor: what to do when someone dies

Place a Deceased Estates notice

Find out more

Inheritance Tax thresholds and interest rates (GOV.UK)

Image: Getty Images

Publication updated: 29 August 2023

Any opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and the author alone, and does not necessarily represent that of The Gazette.