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Mirror Wills Versus Mutual Wills — What's the Difference?

Sep 1, 2017 8:00:00 AM The MacMillan Estate Planning Team Estate Planning, Will Planning


Planning your combined estate is a natural part of getting married, but how you choose to craft your will is going to have an important effect on your legacy. As you move forward with this important estate decision, you’ll need to choose which tools you want to use to secure the future of your spouse, children, and other loved ones.

Mirror Wills. It is not unusual for spouses to create individual wills that are nonetheless identical. Typically, these wills distribute the estate to the surviving spouse, or — if the spouse predeceases them — equally to their children. In the past, mirror wills worked fairly well, but as divorce rates rose and mixed families became more common, mirror wills became less popular for families. This is because mirror wills don’t guarantee that the wishes of the predeceased spouse will be followed. Once the surviving spouse has inherited the estate, they may simply change their will as they please and potentially disinherit step-children or others important to their deceased spouse.

Mutual Will. Like a mirror will, the mutual will is created between two people (usually spouses) to determine the distribution of a combined estate. The important difference between a mirror will and mutual will is that mutual wills cannot be changed by the surviving partner after the death of the first person. This is good for protecting the wishes of the predeceased spouse, but can bring its own complications. For example, if the surviving spouse remarries and has more children, they may find it difficult to include their new family in their will.

Spousal Trust. For affluent Canadians who want to ensure that their spouse and children are well taken care of without undue risk to their bloodline and financial legacy, a spousal trust may be the best solution. Since a spousal trust is only a powerful tool when the assets of the spouses are kept separate, it works best for ultra high-net-worth families who have already agreed to not jointly own assets. Upon their death, the will-maker’s assets are placed into a trust, and all jointly owned assets become the surviving spouse’s property and are not placed into the trust. The surviving partner can then live comfortably on interest received from the trust, but the will-maker’s assets remain separate from their surviving partner’s estate. This means that the surviving spouse is unable to make changes to how the will-maker’s estate will be distributed. After the death of the will-maker’s spouse, the remaining interest in the trust automatically transfers to the will-maker’s children. This ensures the will-maker’s children are protected from any changes that a surviving spouse or a new partner may try to make.

Are you trying to create an estate plan that provides for your spouse while simultaneously protecting the future of your children? The experts at MacMillan Estate Planning take the time to understand your family’s unique dynamic in order to suggest the best solutions for your needs. Contact the professionals at MacMillan Estate Planning today to begin designing your comprehensive estate plan.

At MacMillan Estate Planning, our team of professional trust and estate practitioners, chartered accountants, financial planners, and legal professionals look forward to assisting you with the design of your estate plan and will ensure you build, protect, and enjoy your wealth. The information provided is general and may not be suited to your objectives or sufficient to ensure the protection of you and your family. You should not act on this information without providing MacMillan Estate Planning with the opportunity to ensure that it is suitable for your unique situation.

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