In England and Wales, when you get married any legally valid Will that you previously put in place automatically becomes void, unless it makes specific reference to your intended marriage.
This means that if you don't either make a Will in contemplation of your marriage or make a new Will after you get married, the law will decide who inherits from you after you die. Dying without a Will is known as dying "intestate" and when this happens, you have no say over how your Estate (including your home, money and personal possessions) is distributed.
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 Rules of Intestacy, if you are married with children and the Estate is under £270k then your spouse would receive everything. If you are married with children and the Estate is over £270k (say £400k, for example) then your spouse would receive £270k of this plus your personal belongings. The remaining £130k 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%.
It's important to note that the Rules of Intestacy only recognise biological or adopted children. Step children and foster children are not acknowledged under these rules. If you have step or foster children, they can inherit only from you is if you make a Will, naming them as Beneficiaries.
How to Keep Your Will Valid after Marriage
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 think you might get married in the future, but you don't know who to, 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.
The other option is to make a new Will after the marriage has taken place, although this could leave you without a valid Will for a period of time.
How Divorce Affects Your Will
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.
Your ex will be treated as if they pre deceased you. This can have a serious effect on your Estate and it is important 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?
How Remarriage Affects Your Will
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.
Remarriage can also create another issue, in that your future spouse may inherit from you as the main Beneficiary under the Rules of Intestacy. This could inadvertently cause your children from any previous relationship to be disinherited, leaving them with little recourse. Effective Estate planning through your Will can reduce this risk considerably.
If you are entering into a new marriage and already have significant assets in your sole name that you want to protect, it may also be worth considering making a Pre-nuptial Agreement. This is a legal document that sets out what should happen to each person's assets in the event of divorce.
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.