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Five Estate Planning Moves To Make After Divorce

By Catherine Hodder, Esq. | Last updated on

Divorce is rough enough, and post-divorce, the last thing you may want to deal with is more legal documents. However, it is critical to review your estate plan (or lack of one) when you have significant life events, such as the birth of a child, a death in the family, and even a divorce.

Make a New Will

If you have a will with your ex-spouse as a beneficiary, most state laws treat your spouse as if they died before you. Therefore, if you have a legal separation or a divorce decree, they cannot inherit. However, not all states have this law. Make a new will and update your beneficiaries. Your beneficiaries are the people you want to inherit your property and assets.

Change Your Guardians

If you have minor children, generally under 18, you should name guardians for your children. If you die before your spouse, your surviving spouse will most likely have custody of your children. But what if they die before you? It is important to name a guardian to provide for your children's support, maintenance, education, and health care.

Change Your Power of Attorney and Health Care Agents

During your marriage, you may have named your spouse as your agent for financial decisions or as your health care surrogate to make health care decisions if you can't. Some states may automatically disqualify your ex-spouse as your agent. However, it is best to create a new financial power of attorney and new health care directives naming who you want to make these decisions if you cannot. You may not want your ex-spouse in charge of your money or life!

This happened to “Diff'rent Strokes" actor Gary Coleman. Even though he divorced in 2008, he did not update his health care powers of attorney. In 2010, he suffered a head injury and went into a coma. His ex-spouse was still his health care proxy and decided to take him off life support after one day, even though he had a living will directing life-sustaining measures for two weeks.

Check All Beneficiary Designations

You have many accounts and policies that do not transfer in a will. For example, a bank account or life insurance policy. Those assets transfer through beneficiary designations. Check your beneficiary designations on all of the following if you get a divorce:

  • Bank accounts
  • Investment accounts
  • Pensions
  • IRAs
  • Retirement accounts
  • Annuities
  • Life insurance policies

Update all your accounts and policies to new beneficiaries. Otherwise, they may go to your ex-spouse! It is easy to contact your financial institutions and insurance companies and ask for a change of beneficiary forms.

Additionally, you may want to retitle any real estate that you own to remove your former spouse if you haven't already done so during the divorce process.

Have Your Family Members Review Their Estate Planning

Your parents or other family members may have named your former spouse as a fiduciary such as a personal representative, guardian, health care surrogate, or financial power of attorney agent. Or even a beneficiary in their will or revocable trust. Check with them to make sure their estate planning documents are current with their wishes.

It Is Easy to Update Your Estate Planning!

Divorce is hard. But updating your estate planning forms is easy. You can even do it yourself with FindLaw's state-specific online forms or contact a local estate planning attorney to help you. And if you plan to remarry, it is important to review your estate planning and consult a family law attorney to determine if you need a prenuptial agreement.

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