Til death us do part? Marriage, civil partnership and wills

Alexandra Mackenzie Smith, Senior associate in the Russell-Cooke Solicitors, private client team.
Alexandra Mackenzie Smith
3 min Read

Whilst planning the occasion on which you might speak the above words, you are more likely to be picking out place settings than choosing a solicitor to advise on a new will.

The fact is marriage revokes a will. If you already have a will, then you need to consider preparing a new one if you are planning to get married. Wills can be written "in contemplation" of marriage, so you need only tear yourself away from tasting the amuse-bouche for long enough to put a will in place and you needn’t think about it again until something else changes (please watch Anouksha Patel's video about children). You do have to specify who it is you are contemplating marrying, however, so if that changes in the interim, do come to us for advice on updating your will to ensure its validity.

Marriage also changes what happens to your estate if you don't have a will. If you have no children then your entire estate passes to your spouse or civil partner. If you do have children, then the surviving spouse or civil partner gets all of the personal possessions, a £270,000 'statutory legacy' and half of the remainder. The children receive the other half (held in trust if they are under 18 at the time of death). But what if the plane coming back from the Maldives takes a nose dive into the sea? Put a will in place to ensure you know what will happen to your estate on your death.

What if wedding bells are not your thing? Then it is even more important to make a will. If there are no children, surviving parents are the first to benefit and then siblings and maybe that cousin in Canada whom you have never met.

It has been said thousands of times before; there is no such thing as a common law spouse. One is reminded of Stieg Larsson, the author of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo who died without a will, with a partner of 32 years to whom he was not married and a £20 million estate. You guessed it – the partner got nothing. Granted this took place in Sweden but the idea (and the result) is very much the same. This serves as a salutary reminder to get your affairs in order whatever your status in this regard.

Another, perhaps more cheering (depending on the circumstances), reminder is that if you own property jointly with someone else then that asset will pass 'by survivorship' to the surviving joint owner on your death and not under the terms of a will. Again, it is important to consider whether this is what you want to happen to that particular asset on your death. The same applies to death in service, life policy and pension benefits, which may not pass under the terms of a will.

And how can we talk about death without mentioning tax? Tax is certainly not a reason to get married, but it helps. Assets that pass to a spouse or civil partner on death are free of inheritance tax. There are also transferable exemptions, the benefit of which can reach the next generation if they are utilised in the correct way. Some assets may also be free of tax for other reasons (business or agricultural assets, a nominated pension or a life policy written in trust), so it is important to consider redirecting these assets away from the spouse or civil partner to make full use of every exemption.

This article is about getting together, but we can help you if it all goes wrong and your marriage or relationship ends. But what if you are lucky enough to find love more than once and remarry? At this stage there may be two families to consider. Come to us for advice on ensuring that your surviving spouse or civil partner is looked after during their lifetime, whilst also making provision for your own children or beneficiaries of your choice, beyond that.

Now, about those place settings…..

Briefings Individuals & families Russell-Cooke marriage civil partnership wills divorce disputes inheritance estate planning private client law firm solicitors