5 Ways Marriage or Divorce Can Affect Your Will

Drafting a will is a crucial step in managing your estate and ensuring that your assets are distributed according to your wishes upon your death.

However, significant life events such as marriage or divorce can have profound legal implications on the validity and terms of your existing will.

Understanding how these events affect your will is essential for making necessary updates to reflect your current circumstances and intentions, to ensure that your estate is handled as you desire.


1. Marriage Automatically Revokes a Previous Will



Under Singapore law, getting married generally results in the automatic revocation of any will that you had made prior to your marriage. This law is based on the presumption that entering into marriage creates new financial and personal responsibilities, and as such, your existing will may no longer reflect your current wishes or circumstances. Essentially, the law assumes that with the advent of a new family, there are new priorities and beneficiaries you would likely want to consider.

However, there is a significant exception to this rule: if your previous will was explicitly made in contemplation of marriage. This means that if you had anticipated marriage when drafting your will and clearly stated that the will should remain valid post-marriage, it does not get revoked. This provision allows for continuity and respects the testator's foresight in including their future spouse and children in their estate planning.

Despite this exception, it is still highly advisable to review and possibly redraft your will after getting married. This process ensures that all aspects of your current situation, such as new assets acquired or children born after the marriage, are adequately addressed. Moreover, given that your marital status can influence decisions regarding the guardianship of any minor children and the distribution of your estate, it is crucial to reflect these changes in a new will.


2. Divorce Does Not Revoke a Will



In contrast to marriage, divorce does not automatically nullify an existing will under Singapore law. This means that even after the formal dissolution of a marriage, the stipulations of a will drafted during that marriage typically remain in effect. This includes any provisions that benefit an ex-spouse, which might not align with the testator's revised intentions post-divorce.

The persistence of the original will's validity post-divorce can lead to unintended consequences. For instance, if your will designated your now ex-spouse as the beneficiary of major assets or as the executor of your estate, these designations remain legally binding unless the will is explicitly changed. Thus, without a revised will, your assets could inadvertently be passed to your ex-spouse, contrary to your updated preferences or intentions.

Given these potential oversights, it is crucial to update your will as soon as you contemplate divorce or once the divorce proceedings are initiated. This update should reflect your current circumstances and can include removing your ex-spouse as a beneficiary or executor, as well as making necessary adjustments to the distribution of your assets. This step ensures that your estate plan reflects your present personal and financial situation, safeguarding your assets for other family members or new beneficiaries whom you deem appropriate.

Moreover, during the divorce process, considerations such as the custody of children and the division of matrimonial assets come to the fore. These factors should influence the restructuring of your will. For example, if you have minor children, you might need to reconsider the plans for guardianship or trusts to ensure that their needs continue to be met in the event of your untimely death.

3. Appointment of Executors and Guardians



One of the critical components of drafting a will involves the appointment of executors and guardians—those who will manage your estate and care for any minor children after your passing. Marriage often prompts individuals to appoint their spouse for these significant roles, under the assumption that the spouse will best represent their interests and those of their children. However, divorce dramatically alters this scenario, necessitating a careful reconsideration of these appointments.

Reevaluating Executor and Guardian Roles Post-Divorce

Following a divorce, it's vital to reassess who you trust to handle the responsibilities of executing your will and potentially caring for your children. If your former spouse was previously designated as the executor of your will, this might no longer be suitable given the changed personal dynamics and potential conflicts of interest. Similarly, if they were named as a guardian for your children, you might wish to revise this decision to align with new custody arrangements or to ensure that your children's care aligns with your current wishes and values.

Selecting New Executors and Guardians

Choosing a new executor or guardian is a decision that should be made with considerable thought, focusing on individuals who you trust and who understand your current family dynamics. It might be prudent to consider close family members or trusted friends who are likely to be part of your children’s lives for the foreseeable future. Alternatively, in some cases, appointing a professional or an institution as an executor can be a wise choice, especially if the estate is large or complex, to ensure impartial and efficient management of your assets.

Legal and Emotional Considerations

When updating these roles in your will, it's also essential to consider the legal and emotional ramifications. Legally, the chosen executors and guardians must be willing and capable of fulfilling their roles according to the laws of Singapore. Emotionally, these appointments can impact family dynamics and children's well-being. Ensuring that the appointed individuals are supportive and nurturing toward your children can provide stability and continuity in their lives, particularly in the often tumultuous period following a divorce.

4. Impact on Distribution of Assets



The dissolution of a marriage or the beginning of a new one fundamentally shifts personal relationships and financial landscapes, necessitating adjustments to how assets are distributed in a will. This section delves into how these significant life events—marriage and divorce—impact the distribution of assets and why it is crucial to revise your estate planning to reflect your current wishes and legal status.

Marriage and Asset Distribution

When you marry, your asset pool typically changes, not only in terms of quantity but also in terms of ownership and preferences for distribution. Marital assets can include property acquired during the marriage, shared bank accounts, and other significant financial interests that may need to be addressed in a new will. Additionally, your new marital status may prompt you to prioritize your spouse in your estate plans, perhaps including step-children or new family members you want to provide for.

The legal frameworks in Singapore also play a role, as they often provide the surviving spouse with rights to a significant portion of the estate unless otherwise specified in a will. Thus, without a new or updated will upon marriage, the default legal distributions may not align with your personal wishes, especially if you have specific intentions for certain assets or beneficiaries.

Divorce and Asset Distribution

Conversely, divorce necessitates the redistribution of assets that were once considered marital property, They may now need to be separated into individual estates. If a will remains unchanged post-divorce, there is a high risk that your ex-spouse could still benefit from your estate as outlined in the previous will. This outcome might be contrary to your revised intentions, where you might prefer to redirect assets to children, new partners, or other family members.

Divorce can complicate asset distribution further if there are ongoing financial obligations such as alimony or child support, which need to be considered in the estate planning. Additionally, if you and your ex-spouse co-owned property or other significant assets, decisions on how to handle these in your will need careful revision to prevent legal conflicts and ensure fair distribution among your intended beneficiaries.

Ensuring Fairness and Clarity

To manage these complexities, it's advisable to clearly delineate which assets are to go to which beneficiaries in the updated will. This might involve creating specific trusts, particularly for minor children or dependents who require financial protection beyond the immediate aftermath of your passing. Trusts can ensure that assets are not only distributed according to your wishes but also managed responsibly on behalf of younger or financially inexperienced beneficiaries.

5. Protecting Your New Family



Updating your will after significant life changes like marriage or divorce is crucial not only for legal reasons but also to protect and provide for your new family dynamics. This process involves taking stock of new relationships and dependencies that arise with these life changes.

Incorporating New Family Members into Your Will

When you enter into a new marriage, particularly if you or your spouse have children from previous relationships, it is important to reflect this blended family structure in your will. The law typically protects the rights of a legally married spouse and any children, but the specific distributions and guardianships you desire need to be clearly laid out in your will, especially to protect the interests of children from previous relationships.

For those who have remarried, it is crucial to consider how your assets will be divided among your current spouse and any children from prior relationships. Without clear guidance from a new will, your estate could be subject to default laws that might not reflect your personal wishes, potentially leading to family disputes or unintended consequences.

Drafting a Fresh Will

After any marriage or when you become legally divorced, drafting a fresh will allows you to reassess and realign your estate plans with your current life situation. This new will can explicitly specify how you want your assets distributed, who should act as guardians for any minor children, and who should execute your will. This clarity is vital not only for ensuring that your assets are handled as you wish but also for preventing potential legal disputes among your loved ones after your passing.

Common Circumstances Quickly Answered

What happens if I do not update my will after getting married or divorced?

If you do not update your will after getting married/remarried, under Singapore law, your existing will is generally considered automatically revoked unless it was made in contemplation of marriage. This means your assets could be distributed according to the intestacy laws, which might not reflect your personal wishes. On the other hand, if you do not update your will after a divorce, your ex-spouse could still benefit from your will as if you were still married. It is crucial to update your will to ensure it reflects your current family and financial situation.

How does getting married affect my previous will?

Getting married usually revokes any previous will you have made, unless the will was explicitly made in contemplation of your marriage. This law is designed to ensure that your new family circumstances are taken into account, as the assumption is that your priorities may change with the inclusion of a spouse and potentially children. It is advisable to create a new will after marriage to ensure your estate plans reflect your new family structure.

What should I do with my will if I am considering divorce?

If you are considering divorce, it's wise to review and possibly revise your will as part of your preparations. Since divorce does not automatically revoke a will, any provisions that benefit your soon-to-be ex-spouse will remain in effect until the will is changed. Updating your will can ensure that your assets are distributed according to your revised intentions and can help prevent your ex-spouse from inheriting against your wishes.

Can my ex-spouse still inherit from my estate after we are divorced?

Yes, if you do not update your will after your divorce, any provisions in favour of your ex-spouse will still be valid, and they can inherit as specified in the will made during your marriage. This is why it's critical to update your will once the divorce proceedings are initiated or finalised—to ensure your estate plan reflects your current wishes.

Who should I consider appointing as executor or guardian if I update my will?

When updating your will, especially after significant life changes like marriage or divorce, consider appointing someone you trust deeply and who understands your current family dynamics as executor or guardian. This could be a close family member, a trusted friend, or in some cases, a professional or legal entity if your estate is large or complex. It is important that the person you choose is willing and capable of carrying out the duties involved, and that they can act in the best interests of any minor children or dependents involved.

How Jacque Law Can Assist You

Significant life events like marriage or divorce can profoundly impact your estate planning. At Jacque Law, our experienced team of lawyers is here to guide you through these changes, ensuring that your will accurately reflects your current circumstances and intentions.

We can help you understand the legal implications of marriage and divorce on your existing will, assist in appointing new executors and guardians, and provide advice on asset distribution to protect your family's future. Trust Jacque Law to provide the expertise and support you need to navigate these critical updates to your estate plan.


Jacqueline Chua, Managing Director

+65 6280 7388