Mutual wills are wills drawn up for the parties to a relationship which are mutually binding in nature. Spouses most commonly create mutual wills, although such wills can also be made by long term partners who are not married. Each will has specific terms which must be respected in the event that one testator dies before the other. If the surviving testator attempts to change the terms of his or her will or to renege on the agreement, there can be grounds for a suit if people can demonstrate that the change would cause harm, such as depriving children of their inheritance.
People use mutual wills to ensure that their wishes in regards to the disposition of their estates are met, and to create some protections. For example, a man with children from a previous marriage could specify that certain parts of the estate must go to his children after both he and his wife have died. This ensures, for example, that his widow would not be homeless after he died and his children inherited the house, but it also means that his widow cannot will the house to someone else, such as her children from another marriage, after her husband dies.
Mutual wills can include a number of terms and conditions. It is possible to make changes to such wills as long as they do not violate the conditions set out by the other will. Because drafting mutual wills can be a complicated task, it is advisable to use the services of an experienced lawyer and to take the time to review the documents carefully to confirm that they are an accurate representation of the wishes of all parties involved.
Mutual wills should not be confused with joint wills. A joint will is a will written by two or more people together. Some people create such documents as a matter of convenience. Mirror or reciprocal wills, which are identical copies of each other, are an example of a type of mutual will. To borrow our example above, if a husband and wife indicated in separate wills that all their property was to go to the surviving spouse in the event of death, these would be mirror wills. If, on the other hand, the husband included specifications about the home he brought to the marriage going to his children from his first marriage, the spouses would have mutual wills, but not mirror wills.