There are many different types of wills and which one works best for you depends on your circumstances. Dying without a will means leaving what happens to your assets and property up to state law, which may not be what you wanted. As part of an estate plan, married couples or domestic partners may decide to get mirror wills, which are separate wills that contain most of the same instructions, and "mirror" each other.
How do mirror wills work?
Creating mirror wills works the same way as writing a regular last will and testament, which is a legal document that names your beneficiaries and what assets they receive when you die. A will also lets you choose a guardian for minor children, and appoint an executor to carry out the terms of the will and oversee the probate process.
With mirror wills, two people each make individual wills. The provisions of the will are essentially the same: the mirror will usually leaves assets for the surviving party, or the children they have together, when the partner has died. Each person typically nominates the other as executor in their respective wills. (It’s also a good idea to include backup executors in mirror wills, too, for if and when the surviving partner or spouse has passed away.)
As an example, let’s say Bob and Carol, a married couple, create mirror wills. Bob’s will makes a specific bequest to their child and gives the residuary estate to Carol. The will also stipulates that if Carol dies before him, everything will just go to the children. Carol's mirror will similarly makes a specific bequest to their child and names Bob to receive the residuary estate. The child will inherit everything if Bob dies first.
Since mirror wills are made by each individual, they can be updated or revoked. That makes them a useful part of an estate plan compared to joint wills, which is when a couple makes, executes, and signs one single will that encompasses their wishes. It cannot be changed without consent of both parties.
Learn more about if a joint will is right for you.
Do you need a mirror will?
Mirror wills are best suited for people who have the same wishes for the future and the same beneficiaries in mind. That means people who are married, in a domestic partnership, or in a long-term relationship are common candidates, but virtually anyone can make a mirror will with someone else. (For example, siblings could benefit from making wills that mirror each other.) Mirrored wills may also be useful to married couples in community property states, where each spouse owns the marital assets equally under the law.
If you and your partner (or whoever you're making a will with) aren’t on the same page about who receives your assets, then a mirror will may not be best for your situation. If you have different beneficiaries in mind, then you should make separate wills.
People who are remarried or have children from a previous relationship may want to stay away from mirror wills since they may need a will and estate plan that covers a more expansive or specific family dynamic — and they will likely need to hire an estate attorney to help create it. The lawyer can also give you legal advice if you want to avoid taxes or need other help with your planning.
Learn more about estate planning for blended families.