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Mirror, mirror on the wall, not so clear after all!

View profile for Lisa Cox
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Mirror wills, quite simply, are two separate wills which reflect each other’s terms. However, each person remains free to change their will without recourse to the other. Commonly, a couple making mirror wills would leave everything to each other and, on the death of the survivor, both wills would contain identical substitute provisions, often leaving the estate to children or grandchildren. 

Problems can arise upon the second death if the survivor decides to change their will, potentially altering the substitute provisions to leave the estate elsewhere. The original beneficiaries in these circumstances might try to argue that the wills under which they were to benefit were in fact mutual wills.  

With a mutual will, there must be an agreement between the people making the wills not to revoke them without the consent of the other. It can be difficult to prove that this agreement existed. The wills only become binding on the death of the first testator.

Despite the evidential difficulties, the High Court recently found in favour of two daughters, who argued that a will made by their mother in 2000 was a mutual will. This had the effect of binding her estate so it could only be left to them, thereby invalidating the thirteen wills she had later made!

Under the terms of June Clark’s final will, made in December 2014, her daughters Ann and Lynn were left only monetary legacies, with the remainder being divided between various beneficiaries including her grandchildren and their spouses. The daughters argued that their mother had entered into mutual wills with their late father, Bernard Clark, in 2000. Under the 2000 will, June and Bernard’s estates would pass to each other and then on second death, be divided equally between Ann and Lynn. Therefore, if the wills were mutual, Ann and Lynn would receive their mother’s estate between them.

In finding that the 2000 wills were intended to be mutual, despite the absence of a written agreement, the judge relied, alongside other factors, on June’s apparent desire to make her will once and do it right (despite subsequently going on to make thirteen more wills!) and evidence that the agreement to bind each other’s estates was explained to June and Bernard by their advisers. As a result of this decision, both Ann and Lynn will share the £324,000 estate equally. 

Whilst Ann and Lynn were successful, mutual wills can be hard to prove and will depend on the facts of the case. Therefore we recommend that you take specialist legal advice should you need to make or defend such a claim, or if you are considering making mutual or mirror wills. If you would like to speak to one of our specialists please call 01206 217307.