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HMRC internal manual

Inheritance Tax Manual

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HM Revenue & Customs
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Succession: Wills: Revocation of a Will: partial revocation

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, a Will may be partially revoked by divorce or annulment of a marriage, or dissolution of a civil partnership (IHTM11032). If one of these events happens it causes the parts of the Will referring to the former spouse or civil partner to lapse. In England and Wales this applies to deaths after 31 December 1982. In Northern Ireland this applies to deaths after 31 December 1994.

In England & Wales, where a divorced person dies after 1982 and before 1 January 1996 leaving a Will that refers to a former spouse who survives them

  • any reference to the former spouse as a legal personal representative or trustee, is ignored
  • any legacy or devise given to the former spouse lapses
  • where a limited interest is given to the former spouse, divorce causes the interest to pass to the remainderman.

You should note that where the death was before 1983 the rule was that the parts referring to the former spouse had to be revoked during the testator’s lifetime.

In relation to the Will of a person who dies on or after 1 January 1996 the Law Reform (Succession) Act 1995/S3 deems that ‘any property, or an interest in any property, which is devised or bequeathed to the former spouse will pass as if the former spouse has died on the date on which the marriage was dissolved or annulled.’

Under Schedule 4 of the Civil Partnership Act 2004 the same rule will apply to former civil partners where the civil partnership has been dissolved.

This means

  • only the former spouse or civil partner, and not any other beneficiary, will be deprived of any benefit under the Will
  • the provisions regarding the former spouse or civil partner as executor and trustee remain the same.

In Northern Ireland, under article 13 of the Wills and Administration Proceedings (NI) Order 1994 and the Civil Partnership Act 2004, if a person whose marriage or civil partnership has been dissolved or annulled has died on or after 1 January 1995 leaving a Will which refers to the former spouse or civil partner

  • the provisions in the Will appointing executors or trustees or conferring a power of appointment, including the former spouse or civil partner, are to take effect as if the former spouse or civil partner had died on the date of dissolution or annulment of the marriage
  • any gift of property (other than the residue) to the former spouse or civil partner is to pass as if the former spouse or civil partner had died on that date, and
  • where the gift of residue includes a gift to the former spouse or civil partner, the Will is to take effect as if the gift of residue were to the other person(s) entitled, to the exclusion of the former spouse or civil partner.

All this, in both jurisdictions, is subject to any contrary intention being expressed in the Will.