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Estate Litigation

Can A Mirror Will Be Contested?

Married couples often coordinate their estate planning, which usually involves establishing a will to ensure their assets are distributed according to their wishes. Mirror wills are one option for couples. This type of will essentially creates two identical documents, one for each spouse, with the idea that each spouse will carry out the other’s wishes. However, mirror wills can become complicated if one spouse decides to make alterations. This leaves children, particularly stepchildren, wondering if they have any legal recourse to challenge these changes.

What Is a Mirror Will?

A mirror will is an estate planning solution typically used by spouses where each spouse has an identical will to the other. The language in both documents provides instructions on how assets will pass to one spouse in the event of the other’s death, as well as who the beneficiaries are and what they will receive after both spouses have passed. However, mirror wills are not as straightforward as they may seem. Unlike other wills, mirror wills are not a binding contract, meaning one spouse is free to modify their will at their whim, whether the other spouse is alive or deceased.

For example, a married couple creates mirror wills that pass along each other’s assets to one another so, should one spouse pass, the other inherits all assets. The husband has two children from a previous marriage. The husband and wife agree to pass along certain gifts to their children and the wife’s stepchildren after both spouses have passed. When the husband passes away, the wife inherits his assets. The widow then changes her mirror will to ensure her assets only pass to her biological children. She has effectively changed the mirror will to disinherit her stepchildren entirely.

Can a Mirror Will Be Contested?

A mirror will, like others, can be contested by individuals who are directly affected by a will or the changes made to it. There are only a few circumstances in which a will becomes void, including when the will maker:

  • Lacks the mental capacity to make, amend, or execute a will
  • Did not create the will through valid circumstances
  • Was unduly influenced by a third party and therefore did not exert free will or influence over the will
  • Did not legally sign the will, resulting in a forgery or fraudulent signature

What Is a Mutual Will?

Mirror wills are often mistaken for mutual wills, including in situations where former beneficiaries are contesting a will. A mutual will is like a mirror will but includes a binding agreement that neither spouse can make any alterations to the document, whether the spouses are alive or deceased. Changes can only be made if both spouses, while living, agree on the same amendments.