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How does marriage affect your Will?

Getting married can be an exciting and busy time. But with so much “life admin” in the run up to the big day, it’s very easy to forget to consider that your status as newlyweds may have an impact on your legal and financial position.

In fact, many people are unaware that getting married automatically revokes any existing Will which you already have in place, unless the existing Will expressly states that it has been made in contemplation of the marriage. Getting married can also change what happens to your estate if you die without leaving a valid Will in place. This can cause problems, for example, for elderly couples who get married but have no intention of combining their finances, or for people marrying who already have children from a previous relationship.

What happens if you later get divorced?

Even if you later get a divorce (or dissolve your civil partnership), this will not “reinstate” your previous Will which was revoked on marriage. If you did not make a new Will, you will be taken to have died “intestate” (i.e. without a Will) and your estate will be divided according to the “Intestacy Rules” (summarised below).

Divorce does not revoke your Will in the same way as marriage does. However, if your Will provides for or includes your spouse, after the granting of Final Order on divorce, your Will will take effect as though your spouse had died before you.

What happens if you get an annulment?

As an alternative to divorce or dissolution, in limited circumstances a marriage or civil partnership can be annulled if they are classified as “void” or “voidable” in the eyes of the law.

Marriages that are void were never legally valid and as such, they will not revoke a will. Therefore, if you annul a void marriage any Will in existence before the marriage continues to be valid.

Marriages that are voidable are legally valid until they are annulled. This means that a Will would be revoked and does not become “reinstated” when the marriage is annulled. In these circumstances, a new Will would need to be made.

What if you don’t make a new Will, or forget?

If your Will is revoked as a result of getting married and you die without having made  a new Will you will be considered to have died “intestate” and your estate will pass in accordance with the “Intestacy Rules”:

  • If you are still married when you die, your spouse will inherit the first £322,000 of your estate and all your personal possessions. The remainder of your estate will be divided  as to half to your spouse and as to the other half to be shared equally between any children you have. If you have no children, your spouse will inherit all of your estate.
  • If you are no longer married and you die intestate, your estate will be distributed equally between your children. If you have no children, then the intestacy rules set out a strict hierarchy as to which of your relatives inherit.

Important considerations

It is always advisable to get a Will drawn up after getting married, even if you already had a Will (as previous ones will be revoked unless the Will was made in expectation of the marriage). It is also recommended to update your Will around the time of any big life events, such as having children or separation. If you are an older couple looking to get married, it is especially important to consider the impact on your Will as well as wider estate planning and wealth protection considerations (such as a premarital or post-marital agreement) if you are hoping to keep your finances separate and for your estate to pass to your children rather than your partner.

For more information, or to discuss your specific situation further, please contact Sarah Green in the Family team and/or Nerys Thomas in the Tax, Trusts and Succession team.

With thanks to Megan Davies, Asset Protection trainee, for her contributions to this article.