When it comes to estate planning, creating a will is the best way to ensure your assets are distributed according to your wishes after you pass away. However, if you get married, it may impact your existing will. This raises an important legal question: does marriage override a will?
In this article, we explore the legal implications of marriage on a will, including the rules that govern this area in different countries. We also discuss what happens to a will when you get married, whether marriage invalidates a will, and how you can ensure your wishes are respected.
Understanding the Basics of a Will
Before diving into the legal implications of marriage on a will, it’s important to understand the basics of a will. A will is a legal document that specifies how your assets will be distributed after your death. It can also appoint an executor to manage your estate, name guardians for your minor children, and even specify your funeral arrangements.
A will is a crucial part of any estate plan, regardless of how many assets you have. Without a will, your estate will be distributed according to intestacy laws, which may not reflect your wishes. It’s important to ensure that your will is up-to-date and accurately reflects your current circumstances.
Marriage and Wills: The Legal Framework
Marriage is a significant life event that may impact your estate plan, including your will. However, the legal implications of marriage on a will depend on the laws in your jurisdiction.
In general, the laws governing marriage and wills fall into two categories: common law and civil law. Common law jurisdictions, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, follow the traditional law of wills known as the Wills Act. This law provides that marriage automatically revokes any previous wills.
On the other hand, civil law jurisdictions, like France and Germany, follow the principle of forced heirship, which places limits on the disposal of assets by will. In these countries, marriage does not revoke a will. However, the surviving spouse is entitled to a portion of the estate by law.
What Happens to a Will When You Get Married?
In common law jurisdictions, marriage revokes any previous wills made by either spouse. This means that if you get married and have an existing will, it will be automatically revoked unless it was made in anticipation of the marriage.
The rationale behind this rule is that marriage is a significant life event that requires a review of one’s estate plan. It assumes that you would want to reconsider your wishes after getting married, particularly if you have a new spouse or children.
However, if you made a will in anticipation of marriage, it is not revoked by the marriage. This means that you can specify your wishes in advance, so they are not affected by the marriage.
Does Marriage Invalidate a Will?
While marriage revokes previous wills in common law jurisdictions, it does not necessarily invalidate a will altogether. Instead, it creates a legal void that must be filled by a new will or intestacy laws.
Intestacy laws are the default rules that govern how your estate will be distributed if you die without a will. These laws vary depending on your jurisdiction and may not reflect your wishes. For example, if you die without a will in the United Kingdom and have a surviving spouse and children, your spouse will inherit the first £270,000 of your estate, and half of the remainder. Your children will inherit the other half.
Therefore, if your existing will is revoked by marriage and you do not make a new will, your estate will be distributed according to intestacy laws. This may result in unintended consequences and lead to family disputes.
Protecting Your Estate: Updating Your Will After Marriage
To ensure that your wishes are respected and your estate is distributed according to your wishes, it’s important to update your will after getting married. This is particularly important if you have a new spouse or children from the marriage.
Updating your will after marriage is a straightforward process. You can make a new will that revokes any previous wills and specifies your wishes. Alternatively, you can add a codicil to your existing will that reflects the changes you want to make.
When updating your will, it’s important to consider other aspects of your estate plan, such as your life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and any joint tenancy or beneficiary designations. You should review all of your estate planning documents to ensure that they accurately reflect your current circumstances and wishes.
Marriage is a significant life event that can impact your estate plan, including your will. In common law jurisdictions, marriage revokes any previous wills, while in civil law jurisdictions, marriage may not revoke a will but may affect the distribution of assets. It’s important to update your will after getting married to ensure that your wishes are respected and your estate is distributed according to your wishes.
Understanding the legal implications of marriage on a will can be complex, and it’s important to seek advice from a qualified estate planning attorney. By taking the time to review and update your estate plan, you can ensure that your loved ones are taken care of after you pass away and avoid any unintended consequences.