Joint and mutual wills are similar to mirror wills in that they allow a couple to create wills that work together and provide for each partner in the event of the other’s death. However, where mirror wills are revocable, mutual wills and joint wills involve legal obligations from one partner to the other.
Mutual wills are two separate wills created by two (or more) people (usually partners, but not always), which:
give each person reciprocal benefits. For example, each partner may leave the majority of their assets to the other, and
were created following an arrangement or agreement to make such mutually beneficial wills. This agreement may include an agreement not to revoke one of the wills without the consent of the other partner
When mutual wills are created with an express agreement that they’re irrevocable (in the absence of consent to change), this agreement will be treated as binding and a surviving partner generally cannot change their will after the other partner’s death.
Joint wills are usually created when two people creating mutual wills have testamentary wishes that are identical enough that they’re able to be contained within a single will document.
The single will document then operates as the separate will of each partner when they die. As for other mutual wills, if the partners agreed when making their will that neither party can revoke the will without the other’s consent, this will generally be considered legally binding on one partner after the other’s death.
When are mutual and joint wills appropriate?
Joint and mutual wills can work well for couples with very clear and certain wishes for how they want their property to be shared after their deaths. For example, for a couple of similar age who are certain that they want to leave their assets to each other and then, after the second partner’s death, to their children.
Joint and mutual wills can be risky, however, if there’s any chance that one partner’s wishes may change after the other’s death. For example, if there’s any realistic possibility that a partner may have more partners or children later on that they may want to provide for. In such situations, being bound by a will made earlier in life can be problematic. Consequently, joint and mutual wills are now quite rare.