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Getting married? Beware of accidentally disinheriting your kids

View profile for Emma Stride TEP
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Children come first

For many of us, our kids are the apple of our eye, our pride and joy - and how we feel about them doesn’t change as they become adults and maybe go on to have families of their own.

Our own personal relationships may come and go - we might marry, divorce and re-marry - but loving, caring and providing for our children is a priority from the day they’re born until the day we die.

And even beyond death, many of us want the peace of mind that our children (and grandchildren) will continue to be ‘looked after’ and provided for long after we’ve passed away.

This is where a will comes into play and so, with one in place, we think we have all bases covered to successfully do this… but have we?

Family disputes over wills on the up

The short answer is yes – having a will in place ultimately ensures you can provide for loved ones and that your wishes are honoured in the event of your death.

But is it up-to-date with all changes in your life?

A recent Financial Times article reported on a 36% surge in inheritance disputes brought to the High Court in 2016.

The fact is, more and more wills are being challenged, and it seems that the ever increasing changes and complexities of modern family structures could be contributing to this trend.

Rise of the ‘Blended Family’

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) now estimates that 42% of marriages end in divorce and more recent statistics indicate that the increase in divorce rates is at its highest in the over-50s.

We’ve also seen a significant rise in the ‘silver splitters’ (divorce amongst the over 60s), with ONS figures showing a steady increase since the 1990s.

These statistics go some way to explain the increase in new relationships forming later in life, comprising of one or both parties with children from previous marriages, often resulting in a new marriage and the creation of the so-called ‘blended family’.

And this is where it can get complicated when it comes to understanding the law and your will, as marriage automatically revokes a will.

SPOILER ALERT: Marriage revokes a will

This seemingly little-known fact has the potential to create some devastating scenarios.

A second or third marriage could potentially result in you disinheriting your children if you’ve not planned ahead.

The fact is, when you marry, any existing will is automatically revoked (cancelled) and becomes no longer valid.

If you don’t make a new one, then when you die the laws of intestacy decides how your assets are divided, but these are rarely satisfactory and can lead to costly disputes – depending on the value of your assets, your entire estate could pass to your wife, husband or civil partner.

Any previous children either party bring into the marriage are viewed as step-children and under current UK law, a step-child has no legal rights to a step-parents estate and won’t be provided for unless specifically mentioned in your will.

So, you can see how this can get messy – but you can plan ahead to avoid this from happening.

How can I make sure I don’t accidentally disinherit my children?

Firstly, make sure you have a will in the first place – it’s absolutely critical if you want to ensure loved ones, including your kids, are provided for.

Secondly, keep it updated and in line with any changes in your life.

Your will can potentially be amended to be made ‘in contemplation’ of marriage to a specific person, with subsequent inclusions for your children to be safely provided for.

One way of achieving this is by setting up a trust in your will to ring-fence your share of the home for your own children whilst also allowing the remaining spouse a right to live in the house.  This type of trust can also apply to other assets to ensure that they will eventually pass to your children.  

Don’t ignore it and hope for the best - seek advice

It’s complex and such intricate family structures means there’s no ‘one-size fits all’ solution.

As such, it’s wise to seek specialist legal advice.

At SH&Co. we offer FREE advice or information on wills at our FREE weekly drop-in Wills & Probate clinics, every Wednesday 12pm-2pm.

Or, for further information, contact our Wills & Probate Department on 01606 48777.