When you marry, your Will is automatically revoked – unless you write your Will ‘in contemplation’ of your marriage.
What happens to your Will when you marry?
When you get married, your Will immediately becomes invalid. Not many people are aware of this, which is disconcerting, given the potentially disastrous consequences it can have. Indeed, it may result in the wrong people receiving your assets, meaning your loved ones have to embark on lengthy and costly legal proceedings to obtain their inheritance.
Therefore, you must update your Will after you marry. If you do not, you will die ‘intestate’, meaning there is no valid Will in place. When this happens, the laws of intestacy determine how your estate is distributed. If your husband or wife outlives you, he/she stands to receive the majority. This could leave your children and other loved ones with very little, or nothing at all.
Will your loved ones be accidentally disinherited?
Every year there are numerous cases across the UK in which family members have accidentally been disinherited because a Will was not renewed after marriage.
Often what happens is that someone will write a Will leaving everything to their children (for example), but will then go on to remarry. The testator (the person who wrote the Will) does not realise that their Will needs to be updated following their marriage, and wrongly believes that their children are still their main beneficiaries.
It then becomes apparent after the testator’s death that the Will is actually invalid, meaning the surviving husband or wife receives everything under the laws of intestacy. These assets then form part of their estate. Consequently, the children of the spouse who died first receive nothing. They can either accept their fate, or make a financial provision claim.
All of this may come as a surprise to you. After all, you have made a Will setting out your wishes – why should these be disregarded, just because you got married? The answer is that this is an old law designed to promote the rights of spouses, and which remains in place to this current day. The bottom line is that as soon as you say “I do”, your Will becomes void.
Writing a Will in contemplation of marriage
The exception to this rule is if you write a Will ‘in contemplation’ of your marriage. To do this, you must specify the individual that you intend to marry, and you must then be wed within a reasonable amount of time. It is not enough to simply say that your Will should not change if you marry – it needs to be much more exact than that.
Because the wording needs to be precise, it is recommended that you ask a solicitor to draft your Will, if you are making it in contemplation of your marriage. This ensures that your Will remains valid, and is not revoked following your wedding day.
Divorce and Wills
You may now be wondering what effect divorce has on a Will. Unlike with marriage, a divorce will not make your entire Will invalid. However, any gifts that have been made to your ex-spouse will fail. If you have named him/her as an executor, this appointment will also become invalid. This applies, regardless of whether you want your ex to be disinherited or not.
Speak to a specialist solicitor
If you have any concerns about the legal status of a Will, or you feel you have been mistakenly disinherited, you need to speak to a specialist solicitor as soon as possible. A lawyer who specialises in Wills can advise on the validity of a Will, explaining whether or not the terms will be enforced after the testator’s death.
If you are a dependent of someone who has recently died and you disagree with the way their assets are to be distributed, a solicitor can also explain the options available to you. It might be that you can make a financial provision claim, which may result in you being awarded a share of the estate.
To find out more, please contact me, Duncan McNair, at Spencer West. I will be pleased to discuss your matter in person or by telephone without charge. I have 35 years’ experience as a lawyer acting in such matters.