If you already have a will, that’s great! Every adult needs a will. (And that includes you—so be sure you get that done right away if you haven’t already.) But did you know that if you’re married, your spouse needs a will too? That’s right. This is a case where one will isn’t enough—you each need your own. The easiest kind of will to get for your spouse is a mirror will.
What Is a Mirror Will?
A mirror will (also known as a reciprocal will or simple will for a married couple) is almost like a duplicate of your own will. The main reasons to get a mirror will to go along with your own will are:
- To let your spouse plan who gets their stuff after they’re gone (usually you and your kids)
- To add flexibility to future estate planning if one of you should die
- To save money, because you usually get a discount on the second document
But a mirror will is not an exact copy of your own will. Let’s see how they work together.
How Does a Mirror Will Work?
A mirror will is the easiest legal form you can use to transfer all of the plans you created in your own will into a similar will for your spouse, while also avoiding several legal headaches that can come up with older legal forms. And in case you or your spouse already created an individual will, you can still add a mirror will for the other spouse now.
Unsure how to talk about your end-of-life wishes? Use this free guide.
One problem that comes from having two different wills is the question of which will should be honored when you or your spouse dies (hint: the surviving spouse’s will always triumphs). A mirror will avoids that trouble completely. It’s the most flexible way for married couples to be sure they have control over who gets what in those tough circumstances. And it even gets the same results if you both die at the same time.
To get the full picture of how mirror wills work, we’ll meet Joe and his wife Laura.
They say married couples grow to resemble each other more as they age. And after several years together, Joe and Laura have a whole lot in common. They’re not only deeply in love, they also have kids together and lots of mutual property.
Like most married couples, if you asked Joe or Laura who owns the flat screen TV or the overstuffed sofa, they’d say it all belongs to both of them equally. And that means they agree that when one of them dies, they both want the other to inherit the whole estate. If you’re married, this probably describes how you and your own beloved feel about the question.
But this smart couple has also heard about problems that come up with joint wills. To be sure they don’t have those issues, Joe and Laura chose to make a mirror will, which is actually two separate but related documents. They started with Joe’s will, and then went ahead and created Laura’s at the exact same time. (They also got a discount when they did that. We told you they were smart!)
Sometimes these two lovebirds finish each other’s sentences. Not surprisingly, most of the words in their two docs match each other. Both docs also state that the surviving spouse should inherit the estate and care for the children. But if you were to look into Laura’s mirror will, these are the main differences you would see from Joe’s:
- Instead of reading Joe’s name as the testator (that’s the person making the will) throughout the doc, you’d read Laura’s name in all the same spots.
- Joe is now the beneficiary, replacing Laura wherever her name appears in the original will.
- You might see a few variations about specific pieces of property that are more personal to Laura than to Joe. Laura liked that option because it meant she could leave her grandmother’s amethyst brooch to her cousin Hannah. Joe didn’t mind because he’s not in the habit of wearing brooches.
- The signature you’d see at the bottom would be Laura’s instead of Joe’s.
That’s it! Otherwise, the two documents are going to be word-for-word twins.
But how is this all different from the old-fashioned way of handling a will for married couples, known as a joint will?
How Is a Mirror Will Different From a Joint Will?
Joint wills have become pretty rare, but they used to be the primary way married couples handled the question of who got what when someone died. The main difference from a mirror will is that a joint will is one document made for both spouses and signed by both spouses. But they caused plenty of problems, which explains why they’re disappearing as a legal form.
The harsh truth about a joint will is that if you have one in place when your spouse dies, you simply can’t change it in any way. Here are some of the issues the surviving spouse would face:
- The surviving spouse is unable to add any new beneficiaries. So if he or she remarries, a joint will can’t be updated to benefit any new children or stepchildren.
- Even years after one spouse dies, the surviving spouse won’t be able to give an adult child anything from an inheritance early to start a business or buy a house.
- No assets covered in a joint will are allowed to be sold or given away.
- The survivor can’t add an executor to the will (that’s just someone you name in your will who’s responsible for making sure your property is shared as you wish and takes care of your financial obligations).
- The surviving spouse can’t even adjust the will for tax planning purposes.
A joint will is one big headache! And a mutual will is just as problematic. Although it’s made of two docs which are signed by both spouses, it has all the same inflexibility as a joint will.
To keep everything as flexible as possible for you and your family, we always recommend going with a mirror will for married couples.
Does My Spouse Need a Will?
Yes! Your spouse absolutely does need a will! There’s nothing worse than having to deal with legal issues on top of something as hard as your spouse dying.
Making sure that the people you love get their share of your legacy is just the right thing to do. And your will should reflect that wish. That’s why it’s essential that you get your will done as soon as possible. If you don’t have a will yet, or if you and your spouse have a joint will, we’ve got great news.
You don’t have to hire an expensive lawyer or estate planner to create your will. You can do it online in less than 20 minutes. And we even have a way for you to add a mirror will for your spouse at a deep discount, in about three extra clicks! Just fill in the answers to a few questions and you’ll be on your way to having your will. Get this done today.