How Marriage Can Revoke Wills
A last will and testament, or will, can be an immensely powerful tool in your estate plan. In the state of Rhode Island, a will can help determine who receives your property, who takes care of your children, and who manages your wishes after you pass away.
Having an updated and valid will is crucial, because should you pass without one in place, your assets will be distributed in accordance with the state’s “intestacy” laws. This generally means your property will be divided amongst your closest relatives, but any specific wishes you may have had will not be honored. That is why it is essential you maintain a finalized, enforceable will consistent with your present wishes.
However, many do not realize that even finalized wills can be immediately and automatically revoked in Rhode Island after a marriage, unless they contain specific language.This can lead to unfortunate, avoidable scenarios where someone passes away without realizing their previous will has been invalidated.
My firm, the Law Office of Steven J. Hart, has substantial experience in managing estate plans, including wills. Below, I break down why you need to draft a new will when you get married or when your marital status changes.
How Will Revoking Works in Rhode Island
In the state of Rhode Island, you can deliberately revoke your existing will whenever you choose through one of several procedures. These include:
- Physically and intentionally destroying your existing will
- Ordering another individual to destroy your existing will in front of you
- Finalizing a new will that replaces the old one
- Producing a document declaring you are revoking while following the same formalities used in making your original will
You might want to only make some relatively minor adjustments to your will. Modifications can be made without creating a new will with a codicil, but unless your changes are simple, it is typically recommended you revoke your existing will and instead create a replacement.
The Role Marital Status Changes Plays
The entirety or portions of your will can be revoked without action on your part in Rhode Island. One of the most common scenarios in which this occurs is marriage. Under Rhode Island General Laws § 33-5-9, your will is automatically null when you get married, unless you specifically include clear language that you were contemplating marriage at the time of its writing.
Even if you include such language, it is safer to simply draft and finalize a new will that takes your marriage into account, especially if you intend to designate your spouse as a beneficiary. This can avoid potential arguments in probate over whether your premarital will’s allusions to marriage were sufficient to avoid the state’s automatic revoking.
The consequences of not establishing a new will after getting married can be dire. While no one wants to contemplate such a scenario, it is possible for you to pass away after getting married but before you think to establish a new will. If your original will contained no language about marriage, you will be left without any will at all, subjecting your assets to the state’s aforementioned intestacy laws instead of your wishes. This additional hardship can be avoided by finalizing an updated will immediately after marriage.
Divorce proceedings can also impact your will. If you and your spouse divorce, any language involving your former partner is automatically revoked in the state of Rhode Island. If large swaths of your will include your spouse, this can mean a large portion of your will is suddenly invalid.
Imagine a scenario where you divorce your spouse but do not take the step of immediately finalizing a new will. Then, you unexpectedly pass away, but a great deal of your existing will referenced your spouse. You and your loved ones are now left in an unfortunate situation where much of your will has been automatically revoked, and any final wishes contained in the affected sections may no longer be honored.
Get Peace of Mind
The benefit of finalizing your will (and keeping an estate plan in general) is the peace of mind it brings you and your loved ones. You owe it to yourself to make sure your will is up-to-date, valid, and consistent with your wishes. With my team at the Law Office of Steven J. Hart, I can help you draft, finalize, and replace your will. I strive to give each of my clients the individual attention their situation deserves, and I will work to ensure your will and the rest of your estate plan protects you and your loved ones in the years to come.
Never wait to update your will. Call (888) 701-0919 or contact me online so I can help you with your estate plan today.