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Family law: Should a will be updated upon marriage or divorce?

In British Columbia, as in other Canadian provinces, changes are made to laws from time to time to accommodate evolving communities. One such a change was made to modernize the wills and estates legislation of the province. On March 31, 2014, the Wills, Estates and Succession Act went into effect. This modification affected the manner in which wills are regarded in family law occurrences, such as marriages or divorces, and also who is defined as a spouse.

Under the new law, any persons who have lived together as a couple for a period of at least two years will be classified as spouses. Regardless of whether a couple is legally married, in a common law relationship or the partners' sexual orientations, each will acquire the status of spouse after a two-year period. Before WESA became effective, a will that was drawn up before a person's marriage automatically became null and void upon that person getting married. However, it would remain valid if it clearly indicates that it was drafted in contemplation of marriage.

Under the new law, it is the responsibility of the person who drafted the will to have it revoked or modified to suit new circumstances. This is, however, not applicable to a divorce or separation. Instead of the automatic disinheritance of a person upon death or divorce, the new law states that if a spouse ceases to be a spouse by separation or divorce, anything appointed to or gifted to that person in a will is revoked.

WESA does not affect British Columbia residents who became couples prior to March 31, 2014. However, it is important to revise wills and other estate planning documents upon any major changes. such as marriages, divorces and even births of children or grandchildren. A seasoned family law professional can provide valuable support and guidance, along with valuable input based on his or her extensive experience.

Source:, "DeDominicis: Marriage or divorce and their effect on your will", Vanessa DeDominicis, Aug. 24, 2016

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