One of the last things that may cross someone’s mind at the start of a cohabiting relationship is to think about making a will, or reviewing an existing one. However, it is important to spend time doing that to make sure that the people you want to benefit from your assets do benefit. As there is no such thing as a ‘common law’ husband or wife if you aren’t married or in a civil partnership, there are no automatic rights they will have as far as inheriting your property or money is concerned. Therefore making a will is the best way to safeguard them.
If you are getting married or entering a civil partnership and you have an existing will, it is not necessarily widely known that when you do this, it automatically revokes a will you made prior to the marriage/civil partnership, even if you did not want this to happen. You may want to ensure that you have your wishes are properly in place as to how you want things to be managed when you die in terms of arrangements, and you may want to leave specific gifts to people other than just the person you are intending to marry/have a civil partnership with.
It is therefore very important that when you make or update your will, you do it being clear you are making it ‘in contemplation of marriage/a civil partnership’ if you are marrying/becoming civil partners in the not too distant future. If you don’t do this, the intestacy rules will apply to where your assets go, and this may not mean an outcome you want in terms of how they are distributed.
Whilst at the start of a relationship making a will can be overlooked as there are lots of things that are happening and plans to be made, it can also be the case that it is something that is overlooked when a relationship ends, as there are many stresses and strains that can understandably feel like a higher priority. It is however equally as important to think about your will at the end of relationship, and particularly if there is a divorce/civil partnership being dissolved.
This is because, unlike getting married or entering into a civil partnership in the first place, divorce or dissolution does not automatically make the whole will invalid or ‘revoked’. It is the case that anything you have gifted to your spouse/civil partner will be dealt with as if they had died on the date of the decree absolute/final decree being pronounced. They would also no longer be executors of your estate if that was in the will. It could be the case that your will left everything to your former spouse/civil partner.
If that was the case, with no-one else named in it as alternate beneficiaries, you would be deemed as having died ‘intestate’ and your estate would be dealt with within those rules, which again, may not be what you want. If there were other beneficiaries in your will, whatever your former spouse/civil partner would have inherited will likely pass to them. This may not be what you want either.
It is therefore worth taking a short time to consider these matters if you are entering into a relationship or leaving one, as whilst understandably this issue may not always be first on the list of things to deal with, doing so could certainly stand you in good stead for the future.
If we can assist or advise any further on these matters please contact our Private Client team on 02920 342233 or firstname.lastname@example.org