A Common, Explosive Estate Planning Landmine; the “Pretermitted Spouse”

Assume Dad remarries new-wife Jane after Mom’s (Susan) death. Dad does not update his 20-year old Will. And, assume Dad’s 20-year old Will still includes Mom as the primary beneficiary, with their children as the secondary beneficiaries in the event Mom predeceases Dad (which she did). This Will — on the surface — looks normal, without problem.

But, with this 20-year old Will there can be a substantial, unintended result. That is, in Georgia (with a variation of results in other states), at Dad’s death while married now to new spouse Jane, Dad’s remarriage to Jane does not operate to revoke entirely his 20-year old Will; but Dad’s Will will be deemed revoked to the extent necessary to give Jane an intestate share of Dad’s estate as though — only as to Jane — Dad died without a Will. Jane, in this example, is under the law referred to as a “pretermitted spouse”. The intestate share varies by state law; in Georgia a surviving spouse stands to receive no less than one-third (1/3) of the estate.

An exception to the above result arises if Dad’s 20-year old Will expressly contemplates a subsequent marriage, such as stating “In the event of my remarriage, all of the provisions of my Will shall remain fully effective with no provisions or benefits from my estate for any such subsequent spouse”, or language along this line. Note, Georgia case law provides that this contemplation of marriage provision in a Will does not have to contemplate or name a specific potential future spouse. It can be a general, unnamed contemplation provision.

This landmine caution is that I believe this remarriage surprise exists within many families where spouses have remarried, and either never updated their Wills for the new marriage or have Wills that in no manner address subsequent marriage. Or, are simply not aware of this issue.

A simple cure, in my opinion, is to include a contemplation of marriage provision in every married-couple’s Will, and then discuss during the drafting stage whether in specific cases the spouses prefer to exclude the contemplation language.

Sample language in the Will can be along the lines of this example:

“4.3   Contemplation of Remarriage. Although neither Susan nor I in any manner presently contemplate the occurrence of a divorce from one another or a remarriage to another spouse, if for any reason for purposes of this Will following my execution of this Will I enter into marriage with anyone else (other than Susan), my express and clear intention is that any such other spouse shall not receive any property from my estate nor under the provisions of this Will, with the result that all provisions in my Last Will and Testament shall remain fully in effect and unchanged by reason of my remarriage.”

You can google the Georgia pretermitted spouse statute O.C.G.A. Section 53-4-48. My above discussion is also for general purposes. Each client’s particular situation, and the applicable state law, need to be considered before including or excluding any such preventive provisions.

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