Contemplating marriage can be a joyous time.

Amidst the excitement of scouting out venues and cake tasting, it can be all too easy for the happy couple to neglect less-romantic considerations such as Wills and estate planning. 

Marriage holds weighty legal implications in this area, which should not be overlooked.

This is also true of divorce, one of life’s most stressful events during which a Will is often low on the priority list.

It is critical to understand how these major life events can affect estate planning decisions, and to plan accordingly. 

Myerson’s Wills, Trusts and Probate team explore this in greater detail below.

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The effect of marriage on your Will

People spend time and money meticulously crafting their Wills, working with trusted legal advisors to ensure that their assets are distributed fairly and in accordance with their wishes.

However, when they subsequently decide to marry, they may not fully appreciate how this impacts arrangements they had thoughtfully put in place. 

In many jurisdictions, including England and Wales, the act of getting married revokes a previously made Will, except in limited circumstances whereby the Will explicitly states that it was created in contemplation of that marriage.

This legal quirk is based on the presumption that newlyweds will want to include their spouse in their estate plan.

Accordingly, failure to update a Will after getting married can result in intestacy laws dictating how the estate will be distributed, potentially overlooking the deceased’s wishes and possibly resulting in adverse tax consequences.

Despite this, research from Macmillan Cancer Support found that 1.5 million people have not updated their Will since getting married.

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The impact of marriage on your inheritance tax position: the spousal exemption 

The spousal exemption is another important consideration when it comes to estate planning when contemplating marriage.

The exemption allows assets to pass to a surviving spouse free of inheritance tax, providing a tax-efficient way to transfer wealth to a husband or wife. 

It is important to understand that this exemption does not apply to unmarried couples, even if they regard themselves as being in a “common law marriage”, a concept which is not legally recognised. 

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The importance of making a Will, even if you are not contemplating marriage

Increasingly, couples are consciously deciding not to get married.

However, according to the National Will Register’s Will Report, only 44% of people have made a Will.

This is worrisome, given that a long-term partner to whom you are not married nor in a civil partnership is not entitled to any of your estate under the intestacy rules.

If, however, you had been financially maintaining them, they would have to bring a claim against your estate for financial provision, an experience which can be costly and stressful.

This underscores the importance of making a Will even if you are not contemplating marriage. 

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The effect of divorce on your Will 

Whilst marriage can revoke your Will, divorce can untangle its provisions.

In some jurisdictions, clauses in a Will that benefit the former spouse may be rendered void unless there is clear evidence of a contrary intention.

However, this is not always the case, leading to the possibility of inadvertently bequeathing assets to an ex-spouse. 

It is vital to revisit estate plans and Wills after divorce to ensure that assets are distributed in accordance with updated wishes.  

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Children from a previous marriage 

Beyond the legal twists and turns of marriage and divorce, these events bring emotional and logistical hurdles which must be addressed within the estate plan.

If you enter a new relationship following a divorce and you want to ensure your children from your previous marriage receive inheritance, making sure your Will is up to date is essential. 

If you have stepchildren in your new relationship and you don’t update your Will, your estate could pass to them after yours and your partner’s death.

This could ultimately result in your children bringing a claim against the estate of your second spouse. 

A common concern is wanting to ensure that personal wealth passes to children whilst also wanting to provide for a new partner.

A life-interest trust arrangement presents an option to provide for your current partner during their lifetime while ensuring that your assets ultimately pass to your children, but again, it is important to look at the tax consequences as spouses are in a more favourable position. 

Blended families resulting from second marriages require careful consideration when estate planning to ensure that all loved ones are provided for and potential conflicts are mitigated.

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Our three top tips for estate planning

Navigating the legal intricacies of Wills and estate planning in light of the contemplation of marriage, divorce, and spousal exemption requires careful consideration and proactive planning.

Myerson’s top tips for estate planning are as follows:

  1. Regular reviews: Keep your estate planning documents (including Wills, letters of wishes, letters of explanation, etc.) up to date, reviewing them periodically and crucially following major life events, such as marriage, the birth of children, or divorce. Life is ever-changing, and so too should your estate plan.
  2. Open communication: Discuss your intentions and wishes for your estate planning with your partner and other family members to mitigate the risk of disputes arising.
  3. Legal expertise: Seek assistance from experienced private client solicitors to ensure that your documents are legally compliant and accurately reflect your wishes.

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Contact Our Wills, Trusts, and Probate Team

Myerson’s team of specialist Wills, Trusts, & Probate solicitors are on hand to provide expert guidance to help you navigate big life changes with confidence that your estate plans reflect your current circumstances and wishes. To find out more, please contact us on:

0161 941 4000