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Have you and your valentine thought about a will?

View profile for Leah Woodnott
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With the country celebrating Valentine’s day this week, love is in the air for many couples across England and Wales. For those planning to get down on one knee and pop the all-important question, have they thought about how their marriage will affect their will?

1. How does getting married or entering into a civil partnership affect your will?

When you get married or enter into a civil partnership, any existing will you have is automatically revoked and is no longer valid. 

If you get married and were to die without making a new will then the rules of intestacy will apply.

2. What are the intestacy rules and how do they work?

In England and Wales, if a person dies without making a valid will, then the rules of intestacy will apply. The deceased’s property and other assets will be distributed to their family in accordance with these strict rules, which set out the order in which family members can inherit an estate. The list is as follows:-

  • Husband/wife
  • Children
  • Parents
  • Brothers/sisters
  • Nephews/nieces
  • Grandparents
  • Aunts/uncles
  • The Crown

Unfortunately, this does mean that step-children, close friends or other loved ones would not receive anything from your estate.

By making a will you are ensuring your estate is distributed in accordance with your own wishes and making sure that the people who are important to you are provided for.

3. What does it mean to make a will ‘in contemplation of marriage’?

If you make a will in this way, it means that your subsequent marriage or civil partnership does not revoke your will, so long as you specifically name your partner in it.

4. Does getting a divorce impact your will?

If your marriage was ended by a Decree Absolute and your will was made prior to the divorce finalising, your will remains valid. However, a number of issues can arise if you then pass away without updating your will.  

Issues particularly arise when a married couple appoints one another as the executor or beneficiary of their will. 

If your former partner is named as an executor of your will, the Decree Absolute revokes their appointment. Whilst most people appoint more than one person to act as their executor or replacement executor, this is not always the case. If your former partner is the sole executor, it would then fall to the beneficiaries of your estate to take on the role of administering your estate. 

Luckily, in most instances, a person will appoint more than just their spouse as their executor or replacement executor. Any remaining executors’ appointment will remain valid and they can act in place of the former partner.

If your former partner is named as a beneficiary of your will, then any gift they are set to inherit takes effect as if he or she had died on the date of the divorce finalising.

This usually means that the gift will fall back into the residue of your estate for the benefit of your other beneficiaries.

5. How can a solicitor help couples to make a will?

As a married couple, you may choose to make what is commonly known as “mirror wills”. Essentially, these are separate wills which have very similar contents and “mirror” each other.

It is important to ensure that your will correctly sets out your wishes and that the correct terminology is used. An error in the drafting could mean that your will does not follow your wishes or that it is invalid.

A solicitor will be able to provide you with essential tax planning advice, ensure the correct terminology is used and make sure your will is executed correctly. You will also leave your loved ones with the comfort of knowing your affairs are in order at a particularly difficult time.

If you would like to make or amend a will then please do not hesitate to contact our wills, trusts and probate team. I am based in our Colchester office and can be contacted on 01206 217609 or leah.woodnott@birkettlong.co.uk.

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