21 March 2023

A case decided this month has provided a reminder that if you get married or perhaps remarried, it generally revokes your Will. That may or may not be what you intended - or you may not have thought about it at all.

The case involved Dawn Webb who separated in 2011, divorced in 2015 and then made a Will giving her estate to her 3 sons. So far, so good. However, she had a new partner, and in 2019 she married him at a time when she was dying from cancer. She survived for 7 more months.

What she did not realise was that her Will was automatically revoked by her remarriage. That meant that when she died, she was regarded by the Probate Court as dying intestate i.e. without a Will.

The rules on intestacy are a little involved. You can be sure, however, that they do not make the same gifts as you would have put in your Will if you had sat down and thought about it. In the case of Dawn Webb, the second husband received from the £305,000 estate all her personal possessions plus a fixed sum of £250,000 together with half of the remainder. There wasn’t much left over, and as a result her 3 children ended up receiving just £9,000 per son rather than the £100,000 each their mother had intended.

It is essential, therefore, to think carefully about whether getting married will revoke your Will if you have one.

That may not matter if you are marrying for the first time, you are young, you do not have much money or savings, and you have not started a family. In such cases the intestacy rules may be fine.

If, however, you have had a partner before and have had children, it is likely that you will want a large part of your estate to go to your first family and not to your second partner. You may want your second partner to receive something, but if so you will surely wish to decide yourself how much that should be, rather than leaving it up to the lawmakers who drew up the intestacy rules all those years ago and who had never heard of you.

One thing which you can do if you are due to get married soon is to state in your Will that you are specifically making in contemplation of marriage to a named person, and that you do not want your Will to be revoked when you marry. That will solve the problem.

For people who are getting married for a second or perhaps third time, this issue is highly important and something they should think about carefully when they are planning their special day – not an easy thing to do amid all the excitement of course.