Most people do not realize that changes to your relationship status can also affect your will. It is important to write a will. Having your wishes recorded in a legal document means that after your death, your loved ones can be taken care of, and your property and possessions can be distributed in any way that you have chosen. Dying without a will means that those decisions will be made by the state and in some cases, your relationship status means that those you would like to benefit from your estate, are not able to do so. For example, if you have a partner who you live with, but are not married to, they would not be entitled to inherit anything in the event that you die without naming them in your will.
In this article, we will look at the various ways your relationship changes can affect your will and distribution of your assets in the case that you fail to make a will or keep it updated.
If you get married or enter into a civil partnership
Certain life events automatically change your will. If you last wrote a will when you were single, and you are now married or have entered into a civil partnership, then you may be surprised to learn that the will you made is now null and void. Marriage causes any previously written will to be revoked. If you were to die before making a new will after you have married, the law of intestacy would dictate that your entire estate should go to your spouse or civil partner, no matter what your previous will may have said.
If this is not what you want for any reason (for example, you have children from a previous relationship and you would like them to benefit in equal measure from your estate, or there is someone else in your family you wish to support) then you absolutely must have a new will drawn up, or you will find that the law does not support your wishes after your death.
If you make a new will before you are married, but intend it to take effect after the wedding or civil partnership ceremony, then you need to make that clear by writing the words ‘in anticipation of marriage to [name]’ or alternatively ‘in contemplation of marriage to [name]’.
Divorce or dissolution of marriage or a civil partnership
Divorce, unlike marriage or entering into a civil partnership, does not entirely revoke your will. If you become divorced, or you dissolve your civil partnership, you will is still a legally valid document. However, your divorce or dissolution does change the parts that involve your ex-partner.
Any gifts that you had bequeathed your partner are immediately revoked. The law treats the former spouse as though they had died on the date of the divorce/dissolution and those assets you had intended them to receive now go to whoever you named as receiving your ‘residuary estate’ (that is, any parts of your property not specifically gifted to a named person). If the person who was named to receive your residuary estate was your ex-spouse then the law will decide who should receive these parts of your estate, using the laws of intestacy.
It is important to understand, however, that until your divorce or dissolution is absolute, your will is still entirely valid and if you were to die during this time, your ex-partner would still be entitled to receive everything as per your instructions in your will (or the law of intestacy if you died without any will be made.) It is therefore very important to change your will as soon as you know you are going to seek a divorce/dissolution if you wish to prevent this happening.
Another thing to note is that, if you had chosen your spouse as your executor, the appointment will also be revoked and your reserve executors if you had one, will be appointed.
De facto relationships
A de facto relationship is where two adults live together as a couple without getting married (also known as cohabiting). Many people enter into these types of a relationship without necessarily being aware of their rights in such a setup.
In a cohabiting relationship, if one partner dies and they do not leave a will, then, the surviving partner is not entitled by law to inherit anything from the estate. This is unless you jointly owned some property together. You are therefore strongly advised to make a will if you are a cohabiting couple but are not married, and you wish your partner to inherit from you when you die, as the law is not on your side under the laws of intestacy.
Another big difference if you are in a cohabiting relationship, is that if you have made a will, leaving some or all of your estate to your partner, and you separate, but then die before changing your will, your partner will still be entitled to receive that inheritance, even if you had separated. Unlike divorce, a separation between two unmarried partners does not invalidate the will you previously made. Again, this makes it very important to keep your will regularly updated.
Making a will and keeping it regularly updated to reflect your relationship changes, is very important. Whilst there are some life changes that automatically revoke or change a will, there are some which do not. Therefore your will needs to keep pace with your changing relationships and changing wishes. Without a will, the state will decide who your property goes to, and this may not be the person you would choose. Keeping your loved ones protected is always of primary importance, and the only way to achieve this, whatever your circumstances, is to make sure you have a will and it reflects your current intentions. If you are at all unsure what the best course of action should be with regards changes to your will, speak to a solicitor who can advise you on the way to proceed.