We recently wrote Wills for a young couple who are scheduled to marry next year. Their Wills are pretty standard – if one of them dies they would like the other to inherit everything, and if they both die or once the second of them dies, they have named a combination of their close relatives to inherit.
However, we were sure to include clauses stating that when they get married, the Wills should not be cancelled, because in normal circumstances a person getting married cancels any previous Will they have written. The clauses preventing this need to be written carefully to ensure they are effective.
Sometimes a marriage cancelling a Will can be entirely innocent. A childless person has written a Will leaving their estate to their parents or siblings, but then they marry and want to leave their estate to their new spouse. Or someone marries for the second time, and they need to write a Will that ensures their estate doesn’t all go to their new spouse (if at all), but includes their children from their first marriage. This is something that the new spouse will often be completely on board with, especially if they want to do the same for their own children from their previous relationship – but it needs formalising in a Will.
However, the law that marriage cancels a Will (it is currently being reviewed by the government for potential scrapping) can be used in a more sinister way, through predatory marriage. One case shown on Channel 5’s Inheritance Wars programme involved an elderly lady who suffered dementia, yet married a younger man without her family’s knowledge not long before her death. As her Will leaving her estate to her children was cancelled, this lady’s husband inherited her property and crucially, was able to decide on her funeral and burial, which was carried out in a way her children believed was different to what she would have wanted.
In a second marriage where children are present from previous relationships, writing a Will is crucial to ensuring previous children still benefit and to prevent inheritance being completely lost to a new spouse’s family. As mentioned above, this is often something that both spouses are keen to avoid because they both have children from previous relationships: but without Wills, there is the very real risk of children being disinherited.