February has long been celebrated as a month of romance, where people show affection by sending messages of love and gifts of flowers and chocolates and, for the lucky few, a diamond ring and the romantic surprise of a lifetime with the perfect marriage proposal!
With such a commitment to spend your life with your loved one also comes the duty to look after each other and, whilst not as romantic as a dozen red roses, it is so important to consider making a Will or reviewing any existing Will whenever your circumstances change.
Whilst it may be the last thing you want to think about on your wedding day, it is still really important to plan what will happen to your assets when you die.
In fact, getting married revokes any former Wills that you may have made, unless they were made in contemplation of marriage or civil partnership, meaning that they will remain valid after the event has taken place. Contrary to popular belief, when you die all of your estate does not necessarily pass to your spouse or civil partner and, if not married, your partner would get nothing at all.
Making a Will can also prevent a huge tax bill! I’m sure many of you were fans of the late Roger Lloyd-Pack, renowned for playing Trigger in Only Fools and Horses. Unfortunately he failed to write a Will and died leaving his family with a huge Inheritance Tax bill. His estate was worth well into 7 figures and had to be divided between his widow and his four children. Under the Intestacy rules, which apply when you die without a Will, the surviving spouse receives your personal belongings, a gift of 270,000 pounds and half of the remaining estate. Any money inherited by a surviving spouse is not liable to Inheritance Tax, but this exemption does not apply to the other half of the estate which is divided between the children. Anything that the children inherit above the Inheritance Tax threshold is taxed at 40%, which for Roger Lloyd-Pack’s family was a substantial tax bill.
This situation could so easily have been avoided if he had taken proper advice and drafted a Will. His estate could have passed to his wife absolutely or for the remainder of her life, or the children could have received an amount below the Inheritance Tax threshold. With any of these scenarios, no Inheritance Tax would have been payable on his death. He really was a bit of a plonker!
We all hope that when we marry we will live happily ever after. Sadly this is not always the case and if you have made a Will and subsequently divorce then your former spouse is treated, for the purposes of your Will, to have died on the date that the Decree Absolute was issued. This means that the former spouse is unable to be appointed as your Executor and is unable to benefit under your Will unless you stipulate otherwise. If your former spouse was your only beneficiary and there were no other provisions, your estate would be dealt with as if you had died without a valid Will in place at all!
It is also important to review your Will if you are separated or divorce proceedings are underway but have not been finalised. No matter how long you have been separated, your spouse can still inherit under your Will or, if you haven’t made a Will, they can inherit under the rules of Intestacy. It is also important to ensure that any bank accounts or possessions are in your sole name and, in the case of the matrimonial home, if it’s in joint names then ownership needs to be changed from Joint Tenants to Tenants in Common. This will prevent any assets passing to your spouse by survivorship. Don’t forget to also review any Life Insurance Policies or Pension Funds as it is likely that you nominated your spouse as your primary beneficiary. It’s quite shocking the number of people that fail to update their wishes, unaware that their remaining benefits may still pass to their ex-husband or wife – leaving any current partners at risk of missing out.
If any of this applies to you, or you have had any change in the status of your relationship, then please seek advice from a specialist Solicitor to make sure you have protected the future of the ones you love.