Does My Will Become Invalid If I Get Married?

If you’re getting married – or you’ve recently said “I do” – you need to make a new Will.

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By Nicola Briggs - 10th November 2021

Marriage invalidates a Will, unless it was written in contemplation of the union. This means that if you’re getting married – or you’ve recently said “I do” – you need to make a new Will. Otherwise, your estate will be distributed according to the rules of intestacy after your death.

Why does marriage revoke a Will?

A Will is automatically revoked by a marriage or civil partnership. The rationale behind this is that marriage represents a seismic shift in your relationship status. You might not feel like much has changed, but actually, your legal position is completely different than when you were unmarried. The law therefore assumes that your testamentary intentions need reviewing.

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What happens if I don’t make a new Will after marriage?

From the moment the vows are exchanged, neither bride nor groom have a valid Will in place (unless Wills have been made in contemplation of the marriage). Obviously, most newlyweds have little intention of walking up the aisle into a solicitor’s office – there are the reception and the honeymoon to enjoy first.

However, this can create serious problems, especially if anything should happen to either party before a new Will can be made. On death, each party will die intestate. The intestacy laws will apply to the distribution of their estate, to include cash gifts given by parents and grandparents on the occasion of the wedding or partnership. Where it cannot be ascertained who died first in an accident, then it will be assumed that the oldest died first. Their estate will pass entirely to their spouse or civil partner where there are no children, and then to the relatives of that younger spouse or civil partner. This may leave one side of the family feeling aggrieved.

For this reason, anyone who is getting married should make an appointment with a Wills solicitor. Although making a Will might not seem like a particularly romantic thing to do before your nuptials, proper planning must be applied to this moment in time. Lots of thought goes into the wedding venue, catering and outfits – but the wedding planning pack should also contain instructions to a solicitor. This is not a job that should be left to the last minute as time needs to be given to the Will making process.

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Making a Will in contemplation of marriage

You may ask why, if a Will is revoked on marriage, you should make a Will before marriage. Actually, it is possible to avoid the revocation by writing a Will that is made in contemplation of a marriage or civil partnership.

A Will made in contemplation of a marriage continues beyond the ceremony and the honeymoon period. The marriage that is to be contemplated is to be a specific one, although a date does not have to be mentioned in the Will. It is not possible to make a Will in contemplation of a marriage that may one day happen in the future to some person unknown, otherwise every Will would include that clause. There has to be a firm intention to marry or enter into a civil partnership with a specific person. A well drafted clause will, however, add that the Will is still be valid if, for some reason, that marriage or civil partnership does not take place.

Wills for foreign assets

The position may be different in foreign jurisdictions. Those who have assets abroad should seek advice in that country.

Second marriages

This automatic revocation also has implications for those who are getting married after the death or divorce of a previous spouse.

Imagine, for example, that you make a mirror Will with your current spouse. You agree to leave everything to each other and then the children. However, if you pre-decease your husband or wife, there is nothing stopping the surviving spouse from re-marrying. This would revoke the Will you made together, which could cause assets of the current marriage to pass to a complete stranger under the intestacy laws.

This is a particular problem on second, third and fourth marriages or civil partnerships. There may be children from previous relationships who stand to see their inheritance disappear into the hands of a newly wedded step-parent. It is not uncommon for those step-parents on later versions of their Wills to ignore their moral obligations and to favour their own natural born children.

Appointing an experienced solicitor to draft your Will enables an in-depth conversation as to what steps can be taken, if any, to protect the children of the current union.

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