Parting with Protection
It is a common belief that the three most stressful things that a person can face during his or her lifetime is divorce, death and moving house, but what is less well known is how easily all these difficult situations can impact on each other and cause havoc to financial affairs.
The first time I encountered an example of this was when, many years ago, I was acting for a woman whose husband had initiated divorce proceedings. The divorce petition had been issued and the process was moving along when, suddenly, the soon-to-be ex-husband passed away.
It transpired that the gentleman in question had not made any changes to his Will since he was first married and consequently his entire estate and fortune was received by his wife. The decree absolute had not been issued, the couple were still technically married and so the wishes expressed in the Will had to be honoured as a legally-binding document.
Of course in this instance, my client was the one who financially benefited from the unchanged Will, but I remember being struck at the time by the contradiction of a man who was so focused on making sure his wife would no longer be part of his life, that he paid no attention to ensure she would no longer be part of his financial affairs.
As I continued my career, this situation has occurred on several cases which, in my opinion, amounts to a surprisingly regularity. Spouses have passed away whilst still technically being married to the partner they were in the process of divorcing and the intended divorcee walked away with everything the deceased had wanted to ensure they didn’t get during divorce proceedings.
Though there is a certain amount of irony in such a situation, let’s take another, rather dramatic example of a man’s second wife who towards the end of the marriage was abusive and caused misery to both her husband and his children from a first marriage. In the process of a hostile divorce, the husband dies leaving two grieving children to cope with the fact that, due to an unchanged Will, their ‘Wicked Stepmother’ who caused such distress and upset in their lives is now in a position to throw them out of their own home. The father has left these children with the ‘triple whammy’ of stress - divorce, death and moving house.
The moment a client decides to initiate divorce proceedings against his or her partner, I feel I have a duty of care to suggest they change their Will in accordance with their intentions for the next stage of their lives. I have been appointed to protect their best interests and the whole point of divorce proceedings is to ensure that both parties leave a marriage financially looked after.
The one piece of advice that I give any client who is seeking to protect their financial affairs after they are gone, it is that their Will needs to be reviewed every time there is change in that person’s circumstances. In the same way that insurance companies need you to contact them if you move house or change your car a Will needs to be updated and managed.