Marriage and estates - what you need to know

Date: Jul 18, 2011

A written will is a document that details the distribution of a person's assets and possessions in the event of their death.

At the time of marriage, this is probably one of the furthest thoughts from the minds of the happy couple.

However, the act of marriage revokes all wills and testaments previously in place, making them invalid.

This means that newly-married couples who have not made revised wills are made intestate - without a legal will.

A will can remain in place after a marriage if the creator of the will - known as the testator - writes it in such a way that it is clear that the will is to take effect after the marriage has taken place.

Drafting a will to be valid after a marriage can be a daunting task. A trusted wills and estates lawyer can help, offering you and your spouse-to-be legal advice and assisting in the navigation of all aspects of estate planning.

The risks of leaving an invalid will in place is that - in the unfortunate event of a death - the intestate person will have their possessions divided by the government.

In this case, the state acts as the deceased person's executor, allocating their assets in accordance with the laws of the state.

The distribution of an intestate persons assets differ from state to state.

In NSW, the Succession Act gives priority to an intestate person's surviving spouse, followed by an equal division between any children.

If the state can find no legal heir, then the state becomes the sole beneficiary - in other words, it takes financial ownership of all assets of the deceased.

To reduce the amount of state interference in the division of an estate, a will should appoint a trusted individual as executor to carry out the distribution of assets.

This can include making provisions for the deceased person's spouse and dependents - a powerful reason for keeping a valid will in place.

While there is some room for parties to dispute a will, appointing an executor can help to ensure that the instructions provided by the deceased are carried out.

By enlisting the help of a wills and estates lawyer, you can also make sure that treasured family and friends are not missed out during the distribution process.

The benefits of having a valid will in place are clear and marriage is one more reason to make sure that loved ones will be looked after should the worst occur.