Wills, Weddings and Divorce

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What does a change in personal circumstances mean for your Will

Not necessary three things that you expect to see in the same sentence. However the COVID-19 pandemic has had a real impact on weddings, civil partnerships and divorces and in this article I hope I can highlight the key things that you should be aware of if any of these situations apply to you.

Weddings and Civil Partnerships

Sadly the COVID-19 outbreak saw many couples having to put their wedding and civil partnership plans on hold when lockdown was announced. Many decided to postpone until 2021 given the uncertainty about when things would be able to go ahead in order to hopefully have the ceremony they planned.

Getting married/entering a civil partnership, or not, can have important consequences in relation to Wills. If you have a Will already and you get married or enter a civil partnership, your Will is automatically revoked on your marriage/civil partnership and you should make an appointment with your solicitor to update it as soon as possible. Steps can be taken before you get married/enter a civil partnership to make sure that any Will you make does not get revoked on marriage and again, you should speak to a solicitor.

If you do not have Wills and were intending to get them prepared after a marriage/civil partnership, you should definitely consider preparing them now, particularly if you and your partner are already living together and/or you have children. If you cohabit with someone and do not have a Will then your partner would not inherit under the intestacy rules (the rules that apply when someone dies without a Will). This means that they could be left with nothing, depending on what assets you share and how they are owned, and relatives you would not want to inherit may do so instead. Your partner may be entitled, depending on how long you have lived together, to bring a claim against your estate, but this can feel like quite an aggressive step to take at a time when emotions are running high and people are grieving.

By leaving a clear and well drafted Will you can ensure that your partner, children and even pets, are provided for. This makes things more straightforward for those left behind to deal with and, importantly, what you want to happen should happen.

If you have children under the age of 18 Wills are an important way of making it clear who you would want to act as their guardian should you be the sole parent with parental responsibility at the date of your death.

Divorces and Dissolutions of Civil Partnerships

The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed down the process for divorces and the dissolution of civil partnerships. If you have a Will in place that makes provision for your spouse it will remain valid right up until the decree absolute (the second and final decree in divorce proceeding) is granted in the case of spouses, or final dissolution order in the case of civil partners.

Once the decree absolute or final dissolution order is granted then your spouse/civil partner will be treated as if they had died before you. If they were appointed as your executor they would no longer be, and if you made provision for them, this would no longer be effective. This may be what you intended, but in many instances may not.

If you want a spouse or civil partner to continue to be provided for beyond the grant of a decree absolute/final dissolution order then you would need to make sure your Will reflected this to avoid their being treated as having died before you. This could be done by way of a Codicil (amendment to your Will) or by making a new Will completely.

Similarly, if you do not have a Will and die after the decree nisi (the first decree in divorce proceedings) is granted or conditional order of dissolution for civil partners, but before the decree absolute/final dissolution order is granted, then you will be treated as having died whilst married/in a civil partnership. Your spouse/partner will be a major, and possibly only, beneficiary (depending on the size of your estate and whether you have children).

This is often not what parties divorcing/ending their partnership would want to happen. Accordingly we would advise that you make a new Will to ensure that what you want to happen does happen and not leave it to chance.

What you should do

Getting married or entering a civil partnership has significant implications if you have a Will in place. You should speak to a solicitor to make sure any Will you have does what you want it to and will not be revoked by your marriage/civil partnership when it goes ahead, or that provisions you would wish to continue beyond your divorce/dissolution of the partnership will continue and not be revoked.

Cohabiting couples should always make a Will if they would want their partner to be provided for as the rules of intestacy will not do this.

Whatever happens with coronavirus next the factors discussed here remain relevant. If you are getting married or divorced and need to draw up or update a Will, our highly experienced Wills, Trusts and Probate Team can guide you through the process.

If you would like to discuss any of the above please contact Sally Power on 01832 273506 or email [email protected].

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