13 July 2023

Till Death Do Us Part…. Or Is It?

“Both marriage and death ought to be welcome: the one promises happiness, doubtless the other assures it…”

This quote by Mark Twain has played out in a case currently working its way through the courts. The recent case of Lattimer v Karamanoli [2023] EWHC 1524 (Ch) reminds us of the interplay between marriage and Wills.

Lattimer v Karamanoli

Dr Evi Kalodiki, who was terminally ill with lung cancer, was admitted to St John’s Hospice on 17 December 2018. After a temporary break from the hospice to enjoy Christmas with her partner, Dr Lattimer, Dr Kalodiki returned to the hospice on 27th December 2018.

On the same day, Dr Kalodiki made a Will, which was dictated to Dr Lattimer. She married Dr Lattimer on 28th December and died on 31st December 2018. Her estate was valued at £10million.

By her Will, Dr Kalodiki divided her estate between Dr Lattimer, and her own family. The Will left equal one sixth shares to Dr Lattimer, her sister Mrs Karamanoli, her two nieces and nephew, and the Sarantaris Society.

Shortly after signing her Will, Dr Kalodiki married Dr Lattimer. The Wills Act 1837 dictates that marriage revokes a Will unless the Will clearly states that it has been made in contemplation of a marriage. Dr Kalodiki’s Will made no reference to her forthcoming marriage to Dr Lattimer; was Dr Kalodiki’s Will valid or had she died with no valid Will?

If the Will was not valid, Dr Kalodiki’s estate would be distributed according to the rules of intestacy with Dr Lattimer receiving the entirety of the estate rather than just a sixth of the estate.

Dr Lattimer asked the court to make a declaration that Dr Kalodiki had died without a valid Will having been made, on the basis their marriage revoked the Will that Dr Kalodiki had made the day prior to the marriage.

A defence was raised by Dr Kalodiki’s sister, Mrs Karamanoli, who asked the court to declare that the Will was valid. At the same time, Ms Karamonoli, sought to counterclaim that the Will ought to be amended to include a provision that it had been made in contemplation of marriage.

Ms Karamanoli also bought a separate claim in the family court to challenge the validity of the marriage between her sister and Dr Lattimer. If the marriage were found to be invalid, Dr Kalodiki’s Will would stand, and Mr Lattimer’s entitlement limited to a one sixth share.

The case has only reached a preliminary hearing stage and has not yet concluded. In its preliminary ruling, the court has found that it may be arguable that the Will was made in contemplation of marriage, despite there being no wording to this effect in the Will, but based on the fact Dr Kalodiki knew of her imminent marriage when the Will was prepared.

The court has also ruled on the family matter and has stated that Ms Karamanoli had no prospect of establishing that the marriage was invalid based on Dr Kalodiki’s mental capacity. The legal mental capacity to marry is a relatively low threshold.

Final thoughts

When swept up in the romance of a wedding day, it is often forgotten that marriage is a legally binding contract and one which has legal implications for a person’s assets. This can have significant ramification particularly in cases of subsequent marriages.

We regularly see clients who do not always realise that marriage revokes a Will unless the Will is made in contemplation of marriage. Whilst the early indication from Lattimer v Karamanoli is that the court may be willing to rectify a Will to state that it was made in contemplation of marriage, the final outcome has yet to be seen and furthermore, this may be a very fact specific outcome given the proximity of the marriage to the making of the Will.

Need help?

Contact Katherine to discuss this further.

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