Wills, Remarriage and Step Children
23 November 2018
If you die without a valid Will in place then strict inheritance laws come into play, which sometimes don't accommodate modern family arrangements, such as having step children from previous marriages or relationships.
If you have entered into a second marriage but you have children from a previous relationship then without making a Will, you could accidentally disinherit your children. Furthermore, if you have acquired step children then they would not automatically be entitled to inherit anything from you unless you name them in your Will.
Providing For Children from a Previous Relationship
If you have remarried and you have children from a previous relationship, then it's important to know that without a legally valid Will, your children could be set to inherit nothing from you, as everything could be passed to your new spouse, who is then free to pass it on elsewhere.
If the child's other parent has also remarried without making a Will, then the same will also apply there, meaning they could potentially be left inheriting nothing from either parent!
So how does it work? Well, if you die without a valid Will in place, then inheritance laws called the Rules of Intestacy come into play. These rules place your relatives in a strict order of priority, with your spouse at the top of this list. Under the Rules of Intestacy, your spouse will be entitled to inherit all of your personal possessions and the first £250,000 of your Estate. Anything over this will then be divided with your spouse receiving 50% and your children receiving equal shares of the remaining 50%.
This means that if your Estate is worth less than £250,000, then your new spouse will be entitled to everything, with your children receiving nothing.
Once your spouse has inherited your Estate, they are under no legal obligation to then pass this onto your children when they die. This process is known as the sideways disinheritance trap.
Providing for Step Children
Under the Rules of Intestacy, step children are not acknowledged at all. This means that they would not legally be automatically entitled to inherit anything from you.
If you have step children with your new spouse and you want to leave something to them when you die, then it's important for you to make a Will naming them as Beneficiaries and stating exactly what you want to leave to them.
For more information, see How to Write a Will when You Have Step Children.
Remarriage Will Void Your Existing Will
If you already have a Will that sets out your wishes, you may think that you have everything covered when you enter into your new marriage, but you would be wrong. When you get married, any existing will that you had in place automatically becomes void.
So if you get married and do not make a new will, then the law treats you as though you had died without a Will in place at all. If however you are planning to get married then you can make a new Will in 'contemplation' of your marriage, which names your intended spouse. If you do this and your Will is drafted correctly then it will not become void when you enter into your new marriage.
Alternatively, you could make a new Will after your wedding has taken place, but this is riskier as it will leave a period of time where you don't have a valid Will in place.
Co-op Legal Services has been named National Will Writing Firm of the Year by the British Wills & Probate Awards 2018. As part of the Co-op Group, our values of openness, honesty, social responsibility and caring for others are core to the service we provide.