Polygamous Marriages

What is the effect of a Polygamous Marriage on Inheritance?

We know that matters are more complicated when you die without leaving a Will, and everything that you have worked hard for may not end up with those that you want it to BUT what happens where a person dies leaving more than one spouse?

One question that often comes up is:

When someone dies without a Will their Estate (all of their assets, property and possessions) are distributed in accordance with the Rules of Intestacy (you can check out our simple flowchart here). 

In simple terms, where you die without a Will but leaving a spouse and no children, your surviving spouse will receive everything. Where you leave a spouse and children, your surviving spouse will receive the first £250,000 of your Estate and all of your personal possession, plus half of everything above the first £250,000 with the other half being split between any children.

Although you may be happy with your Estate to pass in this way, a lengthy and costly process may follow through the courts for your money to go to your loved ones and this could be avoided by having a Will in place. 

So what happens where there is more than one spouse?

This may occur where the deceased is domiciled in a country where polygamous marriages are recognised and legal but owns property in England & Wales leaving it to be determined by the laws of England & Wales to determine what happens to such inheritance.

Current case law, in England & Wales, recognises ALL spouses within a valid polygamous marriage as a ‘surviving spouse’ for the purpose of the Rules of Intestacy. This means that where the deceased leaves more than one spouse but no children, all surviving spouses would each receive an equal share of the deceased Estate. Where deceased leaves more than one spouse and children, the surviving spouses will each receive an equal share the first £250,000 of the Estate, plus an equal share each in half of everything above the first £250,000 with the other half being split equally between any children.

Anything that passes to a spouse upon death, passes free from Inheritance Tax and so where there is a polygamous marriage this is also the case and so all gifts made to a spouse in a valid polygamous marriage will be exempt from Inheritance Tax.

However, where the deceased is domiciled outside of England & Wales then the amount passed to a spouse will only be free from Inheritance Tax until the Nil Rate Band threshold is reached (currently £325,000) regardless of whether it is passing to a spouse or not.

In order for a polygamous marriage to be recognised and valid in England & Wales it must have taken place outside of England & Wales and adhere to that country’s legal requirements in relation to marriage.


If you have any questions please do not hesitate to get in touch for a FREE consultation on info@TotalLegacyCare.co.uk or 01727 865 121

Leah Waller

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