It is estimated that 54% of people in the UK do not have a will and of those who do, many do not know the affect either getting married or divorced will have on what they have chosen to leave to their loved ones.
Many do not wish to think or plan for their death, especially during the excitement of a new marriage or the depths of divorce, however it is important at these times to ensure a will is up to date.
When a person gets married, a will they may have previously written will be automatically revoked and is no longer valid. This means that unless a new one is drawn up, if the unfortunate should happen, a person’s assets will be left to the laws of intestacy.
The rules of intestacy mean that the property (the person’s estate) is shared out according to certain rules, where a spouse, civil partner or close relatives are the first to inherit what remains in the estate.
If a person wishes to leave all their belongings and estate to their new spouse this is not as much of a worry, the troubles come if a person wishes to leave the estate to children, other family members or friends or even charity.
If a couple are still married at the time of death, the surviving spouse may inherit the majority of the estate even if they were officially separated at the time of death. Under the rules the surviving spouse will inherit all personal property and belongings, the first £270,000 of the estate and then half of the remaining estate. This could see children see nothing by way of an inheritance.
If a person dies after the death of their spouse, any will made prior to the marriage will have been made and remains invalid and their estate again will be left to the rules of intestacy. This could see the estate going to the nearest living relatives, something the deceased may not have wanted.
The effect of divorce on a will is slightly different, however. Instead of a will becoming invalid, and falling to the rules of intestacy, it is treated as though the spouse had died on the date the divorce was issued, or dissolution in the case of civil partnerships.
This can cause trouble if a significant portion of an estate had been left to a spouse, as instead the gift will return back to the residue of the estate, going to any residuary beneficiaries.
This could cause issues for example where specific amounts had been left to children, relatives or friends after any amount that had been intended for a spouse. Those who had specific amounts will receive them (provided there is enough in the estate), however the amount designated to a spouse and any remaining amount will go to the beneficiary who it was intended to only have what remained. This may be a distant relative or charity who then inherits a significant amount more.
A divorce also has an effect on a will if a spouse was appointed as an executor or trustee, as they will again be treated as if they had died upon divorce. This could cause problems should they have been named as a trustee for a trust to benefit shared children, as the trust will fail.
In the event of a marriage or divorce it is important that a will be reviewed, and any changes made to ensure that your wishes are complied with. It is recommended that a regulated solicitor draw up your will safeguarding your wishes and any special provisions you may like to make. If your finances or circumstances are difficult a solicitor will be able to navigate you through the various options, meaning less mistakes are made that could potentially make the will invalid.
If you would like to speak to one of our expert Wills and Probate lawyers, ring us on 0117 952 0698 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.