On divorce - the pronouncement of Decree Absolute, or the final decree - any gift in a Will to a former spouse lapses (as if they had died) and passes instead to the next in-line beneficiary. A divorce does not cancel a Will, but does cancel those parts of it relating to an ex-spouse. Divorcing couples should, therefore, review their estate planning as part of the divorce process, and make or update (as appropriate) a Will to govern matters going forward.
Clients should also consider the position prior to Decree Absolute when they remain legally married to their spouse, albeit separated. Separation does not affect a Will and so, if one party dies when divorcing but prior to Decree Absolute, their estranged spouse could still benefit under the terms of an existing Will.
Practical steps can be taken to address this, such as the preparation of a new Will or, on an interim basis, the preparation of a codicil to an existing Will or a letter (preferably witnessed by at least 2 people) setting out a person’s wishes. Advice from expert practitioners should be taken to ensure that the most appropriate steps are taken.
In a different context, marriage will automatically invalidate an existing Will made by a party to the marriage unless that Will has been made “in contemplation of” the marriage. Clients who are planning to marry should therefore consider making a new Will.