The Royal Wedding: Lessons in Estate Planning

The Royal Wedding, and Estate Planning

On 19 May 2018, wedding bells tolled at St. George’s Chapel for Prince Harry, sixth in line to the English throne, and Meghan Markle, an actress best known for her role in the popular legal drama, Suits.

Thousands thronged the streets to celebrate the royal marriage, and millions more globally tuned in to watch live telecasts. So popular was it that the number of viewers for it far eclipsed those who tuned in for the FA Cup final between Manchester United and Chelsea.

Married couple holding hands

Apart from the frenzy that the wedding whipped up in the media over Markle’s African heritage and her divorce, the wedding throws up several key estate planning lessons.

Trust an inheritance lawyer to turn the Royal Wedding into a lesson in estate planning!

Specifically, the Royal Wedding illustrates:

  • The implications of marriage on will writing and estate planning, and
  • How the growth in the number of modern family structures necessitates careful planning to ensure that one’s loved ones are cared for after one’s passing, even in Singapore (especially for those with blended families, which are families consisting of a couple, the children they have had together, and their children from previous relationships).

Marriages and Wills – Not So Strange Bedfellows

A will is not something one thinks about in the days leading up to and after a wedding. However, one needs to know that when you marry, any will you have written is automatically revoked, unless it was specially written in contemplation of marriage.

If you pass away after the wedding but before writing a new will or without a will that was specially written in contemplation of marriage, you would be taken to have passed away without a will, and your estate will be distributed based on intestacy rules.

Pen and document

While the intestacy rules work for most, they create unfortunate outcomes for some people:

  • For example, if you pass away and leave behind parents and a spouse, your spouse would only receive half of your estate and your parents would receive the other half. This is not ideal if your spouse is financially dependent on you, and your parents are not close to you or your spouse.
  • Alternatively if you were to die without surviving parents, under the intestacy rules your spouse would inherit everything. Therefore, if you had wanted to also benefit people such as siblings, nieces or nephews, or charities, your wishes would not be carried out.

Also, marriage or remarriage will automatically revoke any CPF nomination you previously made, so you may wish to make a fresh nomination of one’s CPF monies.

Calculator, money and bank book.

While the “right of survivorship” and intestacy rules work for most newly-weds, if you are seriously considering or about to divorce, passing away just before you are officially divorced and without having a will would mean that your spouse benefits from your estate, whether you like it or not.

Alternatively, even if you do not divorce your spouse but wrote a will which disinherits him or her, your spouse may still have a claim for a “reasonable provision” under the Inheritance (Family Provision) Act. However, you can take certain steps to minimise the chances of that happening.

Essentially, most of us are not aware of how marriage and other important life scenarios can impact our estate, so it is important to write a will (preferably with the advice of an experienced estate planning lawyer) and regularly update it, even if you are not from a royal family.

Modern Families and Your Estate

The marriage of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry marked key milestones for the English royal family. Firstly, Markle is likely the first woman of African descent to marry into the royal family and one of very few Americans to marry into it.

Her previous marriage is also something that was reportedly a source of concern for some members of the royal family.

Here in Singapore, we are also experiencing significant changes in family structures, with more and more people divorcing and remarrying, sometimes more than twice, and creating blended families involving children from different marriages.

These children may also live in different countries from their parents, with people becoming more and more mobile. Such new family structures and changes often create complications when a parent passes away, particularly when his or her estate has to be administered, especially in the case of intestacy.

Divorce certificate

For example, do the children from the previous marriage inherit, or do the children from your new marriage inherit? What if you wish for the children from both marriages to inherit, along with your new spouse?

What if you are survived by your new wife, and children from a previous marriage, and they do not get along with each other, and you want your new wife to be able to continue living in your matrimonial home, but for it to be left to the children when she passes away?

How can you ensure that you take care of your first and second families?

Not Leaving a Mess

As inheritance lawyers, we are seeing more and more modern family structures forming. We also see more remarried persons divorcing, and more inheritance disputes between natural siblings and step-siblings.

There is therefore a need to highlight the importance of estate planning, especially if you have a blended family or other more complex family structure.

Most inheritance disputes arise from the deceased not having a will or having a poorly written or outdated one that was made irrelevant due to significant life changes such as bankruptcy, marriage and divorce.

Some of these disputes also arose because the deceased did not care to consider and plan for how his or her children from the first and subsequent marriage, and the new spouse, were to benefit from the estate, and to be happy with their portion.

Perhaps the most common misconception about wills and estate planning is that it is for the rich, old or dying (or all of the above).

Well, we have seen and have advised on disputes over almost 40-year-old 3 room HDB flats worth S$350,000, and insurance policies or bank accounts worth S$50,000, just as we have advised on disputes between parents and daughters-in-law or sons-in-law following the death of a 20-something year old.

Something tells me that Prince Harry and the now-Duchess-of-Sussex are being advised by the finest English legal minds there are, on their estate matters, but for the rest of us, especially those among us who are about to marry or remarry, not doing your estate plan only means you are leaving a mess for your loved ones to clean up.

Clean up, please!