We may not like talking about death but it’s the ultimate eventuality and preparing for the future by making a Will is an essential part of life planning.
That’s particularly the case in today’s society, where family life is changing from the traditional ‘mum, dad and two kids living under one roof’ to more complex arrangements involving co-habitation, second and same sex marriages and civil partnerships, and stepchildren.
And the importance of formally deciding who should receive your assets after your death is further increased for those serving in the military, many of whom may have lived overseas and may have especially unconventional familial arrangements.
As society has changed and families have diversified, the law has struggled to keep pace.
For example, there are now more than 3.3 million unmarried couples living together in the UK who could be at severe financial risk should one partner die without leaving a Will.
A survey carried out last year by family law group Resolution found that two-thirds of cohabiting couples wrongly believed “common-law marriage” laws exist, protecting them in the case of there being no Will – formally known as intestate.
However, cohabiting partners who were neither married nor in a civil partnership can’t inherit under the rules of intestacy, meaning it is possible to live with someone for decades and have no right to their estate, including their pension.
The number of cohabiting couples has more than doubled from 1.5 million in 1996 to 3.3 million in 2017 and is the fastest growing family type.
That increase has prompted a coalition of organisations, including the Bar Council, the Law Society, Resolution, Relate and Rights of Women, to urge the Government to provide proper legal protection to those living outside of wedlock.
What is the effect of marriage or divorce on a Will?
When you marry, any existing Will is automatically cancelled. If you don’t make a new one, then when you die the law of intestacy decides how your assets are divided.
Should you divorce, your Will is still valid but any gift to your former spouse takes effect as if he or she had died on the date your decree became absolute.
If you had left everything to him or her, without any substitute provisions, the rules of intestacy once again decide how your estate is distributed.