Should you have a mirror or joint will with your spouse?

On Behalf of | May 12, 2024 | Estate Planning

It’s not unusual for married couples to craft their wills at the same time. Broadly speaking, most couples either choose to create mirror wills or joint (“mutual”) wills.

What’s the difference? While both outline how assets will be distributed upon the death of one or both spouses, they have some critical differences that you should understand.

Mirror wills

Mirror wills are two separate wills, one created by each spouse, but they’re identical (“mirror images”) of each other. In other words, the content of the two wills is roughly the same. 

Typically, one spouse leaves all of their assets to the other (minus specific bequests) and the other spouse does the same. However, each will is an independent creation, and can be changed at will by the testator – without anybody’s consent.

This allows for greater adaptability to changing circumstances or the testator’s changing feelings about who should inherit from them. However, there’s a potential for unintentional confusion or disputes if one spouse changes their will without informing the other. 

Joint wills

Known as a mutual will or reciprocal will, a joint will is a single document that’s executed by both spouses at once, outlining their wishes for their assets. 

Like with a mirror will, each spouse usually leaves their entire estate to the other. Upon the death of the second spouse, the remaining assets are distributed to the remaining beneficiaries according to the terms of the will.

However, these can prove problematic because they cannot be altered without joint consent – and that becomes impossible once one of the spouses dies. That can limit the surviving spouse’s ability to respond to changes in their lives that might call for changes in their estate plan.

Estate planning can be a lot more complicated than most people realize. That’s what makes it so important to learn as much as you can about your legal options.