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Mirror vs. mutual wills: What’s the difference?

Couples often do their estate planning together, if only to make certain that they both have all of their bases covered and are on the same page.

Most of the time, couples choose either mirror wills or mutual wills.

Mirror wills

Mirror wills are essentially two different wills that are virtually identical. Each one reflects the other in terms of its content and provisions, so if one spouse leaves everything they have in their estate to their spouse, the other does the same. However, mirror wills put no restrictions on what happens after one spouse dies. Since one may outlive the other by many years, there’s no real guarantee about what changes they may make in the future to their estate plan. As such, they offer a lot of flexibility, but not real security when it comes to who inherits what in the end.

Mutual wills

Mutual or “joint” wills, by comparison, are single documents that typically include a binding agreement that restricts each party’s ability to change the terms of the will without the consent of the other – even after one of them passes away. A joint will with this kind of restriction on changes is often used to secure the inheritance of adult children, especially for those with blended families. However, joint wills are frequently criticized for their lack of flexibility, which can be overcome through the use of other options, such as trusts.

If you want your assets to be distributed according to your wishes after you’re gone, a will or is essential. Learning more about your estate planning options can make it easier for you and your spouse to decide what type of will or trust can best serve your individual and mutual needs.

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