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Going through a divorce? Don't forget about estate planning

As anyone who has gone through a divorce knows, it can be a painful and overwhelming process. It is not uncommon for a divorce to take a year or more to complete due to the number of issues that must be resolved, such as:

  • Dividing and re-titling assets
  • Selling or refinancing your home
  • Relocating to a new home
  • Custody issues if you have minor children

These tasks and others must be completed so that people can begin the process of moving on. For this reason, estate planning often takes the back burner.

However, you may inadvertently allow your ex-spouse to inherit your assets unless you make important changes in writing. Whether you have an existing estate plan or have not yet felt the need to create one, changes should be made during or immediately following your divorce with the help of an experienced estate planning lawyer.

Changing your will and estate plan

You may have designated your spouse as your executor and primary beneficiary when you set up your will or estate plan. Failure to update your will may allow your ex-spouse to retain rights of inheritance despite your divorce. Also, your ex-spouse may be named to manage your minor children's inheritances until they turn 18 unless you appoint someone else to act as a guardian or trustee.

Do not assume that your children's other parent will put them first. Revise your estate plan to help ensure their continued care and financial security. Without a change, not only may your assets end up in your ex's hands, he or she can use those assets for the benefit of his or her new spouse and children rather than yours.

Other necessary changes include:

  • Powers of attorney and living wills: Choose who you want to make medical and financial decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated. Failure to update these documents may leave your ex in charge, rather than a grown child, a relative or a trusted friend or life partner.
  • Insurance policies: Did you designate your spouse as a sole or joint beneficiary on your life insurance policy? Failure to change your named beneficiaries can put the funds in the wrong person's hands.
  • Retirement plans and annuities: Since these assets are not controlled by your will, they will be paid directly to your beneficiaries, so it is important to change these designations immediately.
  • Joint accounts: If you and your spouse have joint bank account, shared credit cards or both names on automobile titles, these must be changed as well.

While it may not be foremost on your mind during your divorce, it is essential that you contact an update your estate planning documents. An attorney from The Hughes Law Firm, P.C., can help.

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