As we watch the drama unfold on the latest Married at First Sight season, our resident reality TV expert, and Wills & Estates and Family Law Senior Associate, Hayley Condon, breaks through some of the common misconceptions about fast-tracked marriages; highlighting the importance of doing your Will when you wed!
Married at First Sight – The ramifications of love and marriage
On the 30 January 2023, we were introduced to yet another season of Married at First Sight. The promotions promised the usual scandal, outrage, and humiliation, with a side of “love”.
As the story unfolds, strangers meet, say “I do”, and head off on their tropical honeymoons to get to know one another as part of Australia’s biggest social experiment.
In Australia, despite the newlyweds playing husband and wife, MAFs unions are not legally binding, and the ceremony, white frou frou dresses, and vows are just part of the production.
For a marriage to be considered legal in Australia you must obtain a marriage licence at least one month and one day before tying the knot, under the Marriage Act 1961 (Cth). A marriage licence is not obtained prior to the weddings taking place on MAFs.
As for the other 28 countries in which the show is produced, in most countries the marriage is in fact legal, and the strangers that meet at the altar become husband and wife by law.
Marriage is one of those significant milestones that should prompt you to take certain actions and get your legal affairs in order to reflect your change in family circumstances. This includes updating your Will (or getting one done for the first time!) and appointing someone to be your Enduring Power of Attorney or Guardian should the unexpected happen.
Embarking on marriage is often a new chapter in life and a time that couples enjoy the moment and dream of a bright future together. But the stakes are high when you tie the knot, and particularly so if you have children from a previous relationship, wealth or if you are marrying a complete stranger!
For the international MAFs contestants, they may not realise that beyond the social experiment lies significant risk. Yes, the producers may be willing to pay for their divorce as part of the process, but what happens if something tragic and unexpected happens whilst they are still married? For those with children, a sudden death could see their new spouse receive a large portion of their estate, leaving their children with much less than intended. There’s a lot to think about when it comes to weddings and beyond!
No one has a crystal ball
When newlyweds embark on their honeymoon and start their new life together, writing a Will is likely to be the last thing on their minds. After all, this is the beginning of a new chapter, it’s not meant to be the end.
But just like any other life event, honeymoons can put people in riskier situations than what you usually would be exposed to. From jet setting across the world, to diving into water sports or thrill seeker activities, there are so many ways couples choose to make their honeymoon memorable.
Unfortunately, when travelling or taking part in high-risk activities, unexpected tragic events can and do happen.
We have seen some horrific events unfold recently where honeymooners have lost their lives.
A reckless driving incident caused a 29-year old woman to die in a buggy crash on Hamilton Island on 20 June 2022 only days after she wed her 30-year old husband in Sydney.
On 2 January 2023, the tragic SeaWorld Helicopter crash cost the lives of four people when two helicopters collided mid-air. Two of those killed were honeymooners in Australia from the United Kingdom.
Another honeymoon tragedy unfolded in January 2023, where a British sculptor, described as free-spirited, gentle and kind, travelled to the Philippines with his wife for their honeymoon, only to tragically drown after getting caught in difficult water. He was only 34-years old.
These tragic events should serve as an important reminder to ensure your Will is always up to date and that you have a valid Enduring Power of Attorney, or Appointment of Enduring Guardian, in place should an event or sudden illness cause you to lose capacity and require someone to step into your shoes to make important decisions for you.
Getting married when you have children from a previous relationship
There are unique challenges people of blended families face in the context of estate planning. For new couples with children from previous relationships, a simple Will simply won’t cut it.
Couples must look at their estate plan holistically and give consideration to all their assets, including non-estate assets such as superannuation, jointly held assets such as the family home (if the title is held as joint tenants) and joint bank accounts, and assets held in family trusts or owned by companies.
There are different strategies people in blended families can adopt to achieve their estate planning goals, and to ensure their children from past and present relationships receive the intended benefit, all while still protecting the interests of their new love.
We discuss these strategies in our recent blog Estate planning and the unique challenges of blended or ‘Brady Brunch’ families.
Anyone in a blended family scenario should discuss their circumstances with an experienced estate planning lawyer to understand and implement the strategies needed to ensure assets and your family’s interests are protected.
Dying without a Will – the rules of intestacy and what they mean
Fortunately for the MAFS contestants in Australia, their marriage to a stranger does not have the effect of revoking any Will that they had in place on the day of wedding. If the marriages had been legal, then this would have been the effect of them saying “I do”.
When you die without a valid Will, you are said to have died ‘intestate’. This means the rules of intestacy will apply to determine how your estate will be distributed upon your death.
Every state and territory has its own unique set formula to determine who will get what portion of a deceased intestate estate.
In most cases, the surviving spouse will normally inherit a large share of the estate, which may come as a huge shock to the children of the deceased left behind.
The same applies for couples who are separated but fail to finalise their divorce, therefore remain legally married in the eyes of the law.
For international MAFs contestants signing up to legally wed a stranger, this could come as a huge shock to learn that if something unexpected happened on the honeymoon and one party died, the new spouse would most likely receive a large share of their assets (subject to the law that applies in their country of residence).
The easiest way to ensure that your affairs do not end up being hijacked by the laws of intestacy and to keep control over who inherits what from you, is to make sure that you have an up to date Will which makes proper provision for your assets to go to the family members or beneficiaries that you intend.
It’s not tempting fate – it’s just proper planning!
We understand that writing a Will is the last thing on your mind if you are embarking on a new relationship or marriage. However, it is important to ensure that your most basic legal affairs are in order, no matter which stage of life you are entering.
Putting an estate plan in place can provide peace of mind that everything will be taken care of according to your wishes if something unexpected happens. Once ticked off your list, you can focus on the future, knowing that your family is protected.
Attwood Marshall Lawyers have one of the largest and most experienced Wills and Estates Departments in Australia. We help people from all walks of life put in place their most important legal documents to ensure that they have a tailored estate plan to suit their unique family and circumstances.
Whether you are about to walk down the aisle, jump on a jet plane for your next adventure, or simply want to re-evaluate your current plans, our team can help you get your Will and other estate planning documents in place quickly so that you are protected today and into the future.
To make an appointment with our friendly estate planning lawyers, contact our Wills and Estates Department Manager, Donna Tolley, on direct line 07 5506 8241, email email@example.com or free call 1800 621 071 any time.
You can also book an appointment instantly using our online booking app to meet with a lawyer at any of our conveniently located offices at Robina Town Centre, Coolangatta, Kingscliff, Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne.