When "I Do" Changes Everything

For most people the term “wedding” will conjure an immediate, perhaps involuntary, image. However, despite the romantic connotations of the blushing bride, confetti outside the church or Kylie and Jason walking down the aisle in Neighbours there is a crucial and often overlooked aspect that tying the knot can have on your last will and testament.

Under the Wills Act 1837 (amended by the Administration of Justice Act 1982) marriage will automatically revoke a Will. Put simply this means if you get married, any Will you already have in place will be automatically revoked unless your Will was made in contemplation of the marriage and includes specific wording to reflect this in the Will.

Unfortunately, not everyone is aware of this rule and therefore the automatic revocation of a Will upon marriage can lead to unintended consequences for the administration of your estate when you pass away. If your current Will was not made in contemplation of marriage and you have not updated your Will since your nuptials, you run the risk of dying without a valid Will in place, i.e. ‘intestate’. When a person dies intestate the distribution of their assets is governed by the Intestacy rules which mean only specific members of your immediate family will benefit from your estate.  This may have disastrous consequences not only for your family or friends, leaving them without the inheritance you had intended, to say nothing of the potential adverse Inheritance tax implications.

This issue was explored recently in the case of Lattimer v Karamanoli [2023] EWHC 1524 (Ch) where Dr Kalodiki who was terminally ill executed her Will on the 27th December 2018, married her partner Dr Lattimer on the 28th December 2018 and then passed away a few days later. Dr Kalodiki made no reference in her Will that it was made in contemplation of marriage. It was argued by the claimant, Dr Lattimer that in accordance with the Wills Act 1837 the subsequent marriage had revoked the earlier Will meaning her estate, which was in the region of £10 million, should be distributed in accordance with the Intestacy rules, meaning he would inherit the entire estate as her spouse. Dr Kalodiki’s sisters who were named as beneficiaries in her Will argued that due to the proximity of the execution of the Will and the marriage, the Will had been made in contemplation of marriage and therefore could not be revoked by the subsequent marriage. The case is expected to be decided next year.

The automatic revocation of Wills by marriage has previously been criticised for frustrating testamentary freedom and given that its origins lie in Victorian England when the Wills Act 1837 was enacted there are concerns that this rule may no longer be aligned with modern society.  

The Law Commission, an independent body in the UK responsible for reviewing and proposing reforms to existing laws issued a consultation paper in 2017 entitled “Making a Will” in which the law surrounding Wills was reviewed. One of the questions posed in the paper was whether the automatic revocation of Wills on marriage was still appropriate or whether it reflected outdated values. The Law Commission raised specific concerns regarding this rule given it has not been considered in any detail since the enactment of the 1837 Wills Act and commented that no other significant change in a person’s life, such as the birth of a child had the same effect on a persons will.

The Law Commission issued a supplementary consultation paper on the 5th October 2023 specifically to allow consultation on whether the law surrounding the revocation of Wills following a marriage should be reformed.

One of the issues considered in more detail was the implications of revocation in respect of ‘predatory marriages’. The term given to usually elderly or vulnerable people who are targeted and coerced into marriage specifically for the purposes of financial abuse. The effect of the marriage will be to revoke their existing Will, meaning on their death they are considered as dying intestate and their new spouse will inherit all or part of their estate often to the exclusion of the rest of their family.

Following the rising concern with predatory marriages and the financial abuse the marriage revocation rule can facilitate in such circumstances, the Law Commission considered that more information and evidence was required before any recommendations should be given.  The supplementary consultation period ends on the 8th December 2023 after which the Law Commission will prepare their recommendations for reform in this area.

For more information about the Law Commission’s consultation regarding Wills please see the following link:   Wills - Law Commission

Should you wish to obtain advice on preparing a Will in contemplation of marriage or you have concerns your own marriage has revoked your existing Will please do not hesitate to contact Catherine Pugsley or Megan  Morgan, who would be more than happy to assist.