Whilst people may prepare a will to deal with their affairs, unfortunately a lot of people may simply forget about it for years to come. It is vastly important that these documents are regularly reviewed to take account of any changes to your personal circumstances, your estate or your wishes.
A will is automatically revoked by a subsequent remarriage (unless it is made in contemplation of it), however it is not automatically revoked upon divorce.
Instead, any gifts to or appointment of the former spouse will fail and any residuary provisions will take effect. Problems however, can arise if people separate and fail to obtain a divorce.
A recent case has highlighted the dangers of just this.
Norman Martin died in 2012 leaving behind a partner (Ms Williams) of 18 years and an estranged wife.
Whilst Mr Martin’s and Ms Williams’ shared property (worth £320,000) was held as tenants in common which meant that Ms Williams retained her share, Mr Martin’s share together with the remainder of his estate passed to his wife according to the terms of an old will he had failed to update.
Ms Williams subsequently applied to the Court to obtain Mr Martin’s share of the property and was successful with the Judge commenting that she should “retain an absolute interest” in the house where she and Mr Martin had lived in a “loving and committed” relationship.
As Mr Martin had not divorced Mrs Martin, even if he had died without making a will, his estate would have passed automatically to Mrs Martin under the statutory rules.
Common law husband and wife? No.
This case highlights the importance of regularly reviewing your will following changes to your circumstances. As lawyers often point out, there is no such thing as a common law husband and wife.
Whilst Ms Williams was successful in her claim in this instance, she will likely have suffered significant stress and inconvenience in pursuing her claim not to mention the costs; Mrs Martin has been ordered to pay Ms Williams’ costs at £100,000.