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Does Marriage Automatically Invalidate Your Existing Will?

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Does Marriage Automatically Invalidate Your Existing Will

Hi loves 👋 When it comes to estate planning and wills, one question I hear often is whether getting married will automatically invalidate your existing will.

The short answer is – it depends!

In today’s blog post, let’s dive deeper into how marriage can potentially impact the validity of your will.

How Marriage Impacts Your Estate Planning

To really understand the nuances around how marriage affects an existing will, we first need to go over some key concepts in estate planning:

Intestate Succession: This refers to the laws that govern how your property is distributed if you die without a valid will. Every state has intestate succession laws that outline who inherits what if there is no will.

Probate: Probate is the legal process of settling an estate after someone passes away. Your will must go through probate after your death so a probate court can verify its validity and oversee distributing your assets according to the instructions in your will.

Intestacy: Dying without a valid will means you die “intestate.” In this case, your state’s intestacy laws dictate who inherits your estate rather than the instructions outlined in your will.

Community Property: Nine U.S. states – Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin – have community property laws. In these states, assets acquired during marriage are considered jointly owned by both spouses, regardless of who earns the income or whose name is on the title/deed.

So in summary – marriage itself doesn’t necessarily invalidate an existing will, but it can impact things like beneficiary designations, spouse inheritance rights, and probate depending on the state’s laws. Let’s dive into some key scenarios:

How Marriage Impacts Wills in Common Law States

Most U.S. states follow common law, meaning your assets are considered separately owned rather than jointly owned like in community property states.

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In common law states:

Marriage alone does not invalidate your pre-existing will. It remains valid unless/until you explicitly revoke it or draft a new one.

However, if your spouse is not provided for or mentioned in your pre-marriage will, they may be entitled to a portion of your estate through intestacy laws.

Your spouse can “elect against” your will and receive what they would be entitled to through intestacy instead, which is often a percentage of your entire estate.

To avoid potential issues, common law states generally recommend reviewing and possibly revising your existing will after marriage to either:

  1. Explicitly include your new spouse as a beneficiary
  2. Draft a prenuptial agreement stating your spouse waives inheritance rights

This helps ensure your spouse is properly provided for in your will and can’t dispute it after your passing through elective share or intestacy rights.

How Marriage Affects Wills in Community Property States

Community property states like California operate quite differently, since assets are owned jointly between spouses rather than individually:

Unlike common law, simply getting married will invalidate provisions in your preexisting will related to community assets earned during the marriage.

Any community property acquired after marriage automatically belongs 50/50 to both spouses upon death if there’s no new will.

Separate property you owned before marriage remains yours alone to dispose of through your original will.

But community income/assets after marriage must be dealt with either through an updated will or other estate planning means like a trust.

This means it’s crucial to redo your estate plan entirely after marriage in a community property state to properly allocate both community and separate assets according to your wishes. Leaving it untouched risks an outdated will being deemed invalid for community assets.

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How Divorce Impacts Your Existing Will

On a similar note, getting divorced also impacts beneficiary status and will validity:

A finalized divorce automatically revokes any provisions in your pre-divorce will that benefited your ex-spouse. This includes bequests, inheritances, financial powers of attorney or health care proxies granted to them.

After divorce, your ex is essentially treated as having died before you for legal/inheritance purposes. Getting remarried also reinstates inheritance rights for your new spouse.

So following a divorce, it’s especially important to draft or revise your existing will, update beneficiary designations, and complete other essential estate planning documents. This ensures assets go where you intend and not potentially to an ex by default.

Updating Your Will After Major Life Changes

As illustrated above, any major life event like marriage, divorce or having kids can potentially impact the validity and accuracy of your existing estate plan. So as a general rule:

  • Review your will anytime you experience a significant change like the above.
  • Don’t assume it stays valid if not explicitly revised or revoked in writing.
  • Take necessary steps to ensure it reflects your current wishes and priorities for inheriting your assets smoothly.
  • This includes reconfirming beneficiary forms are up to date for retirement accounts, life insurance, etc.

By taking the time to periodically review and update your will after major life milestones, you help guarantee your assets are distributed just as you intend even if intestacy or family disputes were to arise later on. Always consult an estate planning attorney for state-specific guidance as laws can vary.

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Other Situations Where Marriage May Not Invalidate a Will

While marriage usually requires reviewing your will, there are a few less common scenarios where a preexisting will could potentially remain valid despite marrying:

If your will makes “in contemplation of marriage” provisions: Some wills address inheriting from a future spouse by using contingency wording like “or whom I may later marry.”

If you get married but fail to acquire any joint property: For example, keeping assets entirely separate or having a prenup waiving inheritance rights.

Some limited community property may still be governed by the original will: Like inheritances/gifts received before marriage which retain their separate character.

However, even in these fringe cases it’s strongly advised to consult an estate planning attorney to verify your particular situation. Most wills lose at least some validity after marriage without addressing your new spouse’s rights.

Conclusion

When it comes to estate planning and major life changes, it’s always best to err on the side of caution by reviewing and potentially revising important documents like your will. Be especially diligent if you live in a community property state like myself here in California.

Marriage, divorce and having kids are all events very likely to require updating your existing wishes around inheriting property, care of minor children, and more. Taking proactive steps ensures your wealth passes according to your current desires and priorities.

With thoughtful estate planning tailored to your situation, you can feel fully secure providing as intended even when you’re no longer around to explain. Wishing you all the very best as you take care of these import ant matters! 🥰

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