You can find love at any age. And for many seniors, their golden years are more than just a time for retiring and relaxing in their condo communities – remarriage may be in the cards, too.
But what about when the marriage maybe wasn’t the best decision? What about when these remarriages can complicate Estate matters? “Till death do us part” is the vow, and many couples marry young and stay together for their entire lives. But it doesn’t always go that way, and sometimes meeting a new partner late in life leads to the altar– and adult children and family members can be left with questions about what it means for them. Short unions between older adults can sometimes raise issues with inheritance and the rights of heirs.
When a person gets married shortly before their death, is their new husband or wife now in charge of their final wishes? Are they entitled to everything? Half of everything? Anything? A family can unexpectedly find themselves navigating this sensitive situation.
If a marriage was legal – licensed and filed – then a spouse is a spouse, regardless of the length of the marriage or the feelings of family members. But there are times when a marriage, though legal, is better off null and void. For any number of Estate-specific and personal reasons, it should be as if the marriage didn’t happen. At least legally. If a family feels this way after the death of a recently-married loved one, they may want to know if a marriage can be annulled after the death of one’s spouse.
What is an Annulment?
An annulment is a legal ruling that voids a marriage. It erases all legal validity of the marriage. Though the marriage records will still exist, an annulment makes it so that the marriage that did happen has no legal standing. It’s like it didn’t exist.
An annulment is not the same as a divorce, which dissolves a marriage but doesn’t question the fact that it was legally valid while it lasted. Likewise, sometimes a religious annulment may be granted for reasons of personal faith, but a church-granted annulment is also not the same as a legal annulment.
Can a marriage be annulled after the death of one spouse?
If the consensus among the family or other heirs is that the marriage should not have been valid and the spouse should not be granted any of the rights a spouse typically has, nor should they profit financially from the marriage, an annulment may be called for.
So, can a marriage be annulled after one spouse dies? Sometimes. It’s not easily done, but there are instances when it is not only possible but legally correct. While most states don’t void a marriage after one of the people in the marriage dies, since the need for the annulment would be based on hearsay of the surviving spouse or third parties, an annulment can take place if the marriage was illegal and therefore invalid when it took place.
When might an Annulment be needed after one spouse dies?
If an annulment is needed to keep a new spouse from claiming a share of the deceased person’s estate and to protect the best interest of the heirs, it can sometimes be granted, if certain conditions applying to either spouse are true and can be proven. There are certain examples of when an annulment may be an option, like if:
They were/are still married to someone else – If there’s another husband or wife still alive somewhere, the second (or third, or so on…) marriage will not be legal and will not be valid, so an annulment can be granted. Whether the spouse never signed the divorce papers, separated but never filed to end or void the previous marriage, or just moved to a new state and didn’t tell anyone – if they were still legally married to someone when the marriage in question took place, an annulment might be the best way to erase it.
They were mentally incompetent when the marriage took place – Diseases that are seen in older adults such as Alzheimer’s and other forms of Dementia can negatively affect a person’s intellectual faculties; their thinking and decision-making abilities may be diminished to the point of mental incompetence, leading them to make poor decisions or be coerced into harmful situations. Unfortunately, this can and does happen -- some ailing older adults are preyed upon by opportunists. If heirs believe this was the case, they may want to seek a posthumous annulment.
They were too young for marriage – Though this may be a less common scenario in Estate Planning matters, if one or both people in the marriage were below the legal age for marriage, and/or one or both people didn’t have the consent to marry required by law in their state, the marriage will not be seen as valid.
They married a close relative – Maybe even more uncommon but still possible, if a person marries someone they are too closely related to – maybe in attempts to gain a pension or some valuable property -- the marriage isn’t legal and can be annulled.
What is a voidable marriage?
For a marriage to be voided, both spouses must be alive. Voidable marriages include cases when:
The spouses were intoxicated when they got married
One spouse was forced to marry the other
One spouse lied or misrepresent himself or herself to the other
One or both spouses were under considerable mental duress when the marriage took place
If any of these conditions apply to the marriage in question, and both spouses are still living, they can seek to have a judge void their marriage. If one spouse dies, however, even if the marriage happened under voidable conditions, once one of the spouses is deceased the marriage can no longer be voided.
The Importance of Estate Planning
Dealing with the ramifications of an older parent or relative’s questionable choices isn’t always easy. A sudden marriage can have legal and financial consequences that can hurt a person’s family and loved ones after they die. A happy, late-in-life marriage that’s on the up-and-up isn’t much to worry about, but a predatory or otherwise unsettling relationship that becomes legally binding can have devastating effects on an Estate.
That’s why Estate Planning is crucial. By making a Will and updating it as needed, there will be minimal doubt about end-of-life decisions and wishes. Property and valuable assets can be distributed via Trusts. Estate Planning documents can be amended when called for, as well as left in place to ensure that changes in a person’s love life won’t necessarily affect their financial life or the best interest of their children and heirs.
Here at Trust & Will, we make it easy to start Estate Planning now. Getting everything in order before anything unexpected happens can make navigating even the most difficult Estate problems a lot easier. With our online, state-specific Estate Planning documents, you can make your Will in just minutes, and create a Trust from the comfort of your own home.
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