Divorce changes your family’s entire world and even if it is amicable, there are many tough decisions, legal hassles, and painful emotions that linger on for months or even years. With all of this going on, you probably don’t want to add any more items to your to-do list during this trying time. However, it’s absolutely critical that you review and update your estate plan—not only after the divorce is final, but as soon as possible once you know the split is inevitable.
Your marriage is legally in full effect until your divorce is finalized, which means if you die while the divorce is still ongoing and you haven’t updated your estate plan, your soon-to-be-ex spouse could end up inheriting everything. Maybe even worse, in the event you’re incapacitated before the divorce is final, they would be in complete control of your legal, financial, and healthcare decisions.
Given the fact you’re ending the relationship, you probably wouldn’t want them having that much control over your life and assets. If that’s the case, you must act. While some state laws limit your ability to completely change your estate plan once your divorce has been filed, the following are a few of the most important updates you should consider making as soon as divorce is on the horizon.
1: Update your power of attorney documents for healthcare, financial, and legal decisions
If you are incapacitated by illness or injury during the divorce, who would you want making life-and-death healthcare decisions on your behalf? Similarly, who would you want managing your finances and making legal decisions for you? In light of the impending split, you’ll most likely want to select another individual, particularly if things are anything less than friendly between the two of you. In both cases, you have to take action if you do not want your spouse making these decisions for you. Don’t wait, contact us if you know divorce is coming.
2: Update your beneficiary designations
Failing to update beneficiary designations for assets that do not pass through a will or trust, such as life insurance policies and retirement accounts, is one of the most frequent—and tragic—planning mistakes made by those who get divorced. If you get remarried following your divorce, for example, but haven’t changed your IRA beneficiary designation to name your new spouse, the ex you divorced 10 years ago could end up with your retirement savings upon your death.
That said, in most states, once either spouse files divorce papers with the court, neither party can legally amend their beneficiaries without the other’s permission until the divorce is final, so if you’re anticipating a divorce you may want to consider changing your beneficiaries prior to filing divorce papers. If your divorce is already filed, you should consult with us to see if changing beneficiaries is legal in your state and in your best interest.
Finally, if naming new beneficiaries is not an option for you now, once the divorce is finalized it should be your number-one planning priority.
Next week, we’ll continue with part two in this series on the critical estate-planning updates you should make when divorce is inevitable.
This article is a service of Levi Alexander, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.