Writing Wills as a Couple: What You Need to Know
Common Law Relationships & Wills
Having a will is important for every couple, but this is especially true if you are in a common-law relationship. If you die without a will, you may end up leaving your common-law spouse with no claim to your assets. A common-law spouse may be able to successfully file a claim, but this will take time and effort during an already stressful time. If you are in a marriage-like relationship with a common-law spouse, the best way to ensure that your partner is taken care of after you die is to make a will that explicitly lists them as your main beneficiary.
Joint Wills vs. Mirror Wills
A joint will is generally an outdated practice where a single document is used as a will for both members of a couple. Joint wills were the norm before computers and printers were commonplace, because preparing one document was significantly simpler than preparing two. However, nowadays it is generally recommended that couples create what are called “mirror wills.”
Mirror wills are two separate wills for each member of a couple, where they both name the other member of the couple as the main beneficiary. Mirror wills usually also contain an alternate beneficiary in case both partners should die at the same time, such as in a car accident. Many couples choose to name each other as executor of their wills, but in this case it is, again, important to name an alternate executor in the event that both partners should die at the same time.
Mirror wills are two independent documents that need to be updated separately as needed.
Inheritance for Mixed Families
What if one person wants to leave something to their child from a previous marriage? This is easy to accomplish with a mirror will. Although mirror wills do “mirror” each other in some ways, they do not need to be exactly the same. If one party wishes to leave something to a child from a previous relationship, for example, or to a charity that is close to their heart but not to their spouse’s, they can do so in their will. The best way to ensure that your wills reflect what you want as both a couple and as individuals is to have a lawyer prepare your mirror wills for you. This ensures that they are legally sound and accurately reflect your wishes.