If you get married in England or Wales, then any legally valid Will that you have previously put in place in England or Wales will automatically become void, unless your Will makes specific reference to your intended marriage.
This means that if you do not put a new Will in place after you get married, then the law will decide who inherits your money, possessions and property (known as your Estate) after you die. This is known as dying “intestate”.
If you have a legally valid Will from another country, you should seek legal advice from a specialist in that country’s law to establish how marriage may impact on your Will.
Why Does My Will Become Void?
Under marriage laws in England and Wales, any pre-existing Will is revoked when you enter into a legally binding marriage contract. This means that if you die without making a new Will after you get married, the law will decide who should inherit from you, under inheritance laws called the Rules of Intestacy.
Under the intestacy rules, if you are married with children and the Estate is under £250k then your spouse would receive everything. If you are married with children and the Estate is over £250k (say £400k, for example) then your spouse would receive £250k of this plus personal belongings. The remaining £150k would then be split 50/50 between your spouse and your children; your spouse would receive 50% of this and your children would equally share the other 50%.
The only way that a Will can remain valid after marriage is if it is made “in contemplation of marriage.” Specific details will need to be given of the person that you intend to marry. This can be a good option for engaged couples who want to make Wills but don’t want them to become void after they tie the knot.
If you don’t have details of the person you intend to marry, then you will not be able to use this option. A speculation of a future marriage without specific details of who you intend to marry won’t prevent your Will from becoming void if and when you do marry in the future.
Divorce and Remarriage
Divorce also has an impact on the terms of your Will. While divorce won’t fully revoke your Will, your ex-spouse will no longer be able to benefit from your Will as a Beneficiary, or act as an Executor and/or Trustee. Anything that you have gifted to your ex in your Will would be dealt with as if they had died on the date that your marriage ended. It’s important to be aware of this and to make sure that you update your Will so that it’s still a true reflection of your wishes. For more information on how divorce affects your Will, see What Happens to My Will after Divorce?
If you have been married previously, have divorced and are now planning to remarry, the effect that the remarriage will have on your Will is exactly the same as if you were marrying for the first time. That is, the Will becomes void as soon as the marriage has taken place.
It’s important to be fully aware of the potential consequences of this. For example, consider Jonathan’s situation. Jonathan owns the property in which he and his wife Julie live, in his sole name. Jonathan has not made a new Will since he married Julie.
When Jonathan dies, Julie inherits the first £250,000 of the value of his Estate and the rest is split 50/50 between Julie and Jonathan’s children from his previous marriage. This means that Julie receives 50% of the remaining value of the Estate and the other 50% is shared equally between Jonathan’s three children.
The main asset in Jonathan’s Estate is the home in which he and Julie were living. As you may expect, disputes begin between Jonathan’s children and Julie regarding the ownership of the house that Julie lives in.
Make a New Will to Ensure You’re Covered
Once you have details of the marriage that you will be entering into it’s a good idea to make a new Will. In your new Will, you can state that this is being made in contemplation of your marriage. This means that it will remain valid after the marriage has taken place.
You can also wait until after your marriage has taken place to make a new Will, but this is likely to leave a period of time when you have no legally valid Will in place.