If you are recently divorced, you are all too aware of how divorce changes everything. Your mind may have been so wrapped up in wrangling over who-gets-what now that you may have lost sight of who-gets-what later—namely, in your estate plan. First, please know that this is normal. Life happens. Here’s some good news: You’re reading this. You probably understand that the future stability of your estate plan is created by building a solid foundation today. An experienced and skilled estate planning attorney can help you navigate the process of planning for all of your tomorrows.
If you have experience having your estate plan crafted, there’s a good chance you have been advised to include medical and property powers of attorney. A medical power of attorney designates who should make decisions regarding your medical affairs. A property power of attorney designates who makes decisions regarding your assets should you become suddenly incapacitated. Then, of course, some wills and trusts say who is in control and who gets what when you pass. There’s some good and bad news with these documents where divorce and estate planning are concerned. Let’s cover the good news first. By statute, most important documents in an estate plan automatically revoke the ex-spouse as a decision-maker and a beneficiary. In brief, they are treated as if they passed before you.
Now, we will cover the bad news. Being divorced does not automatically remove an ex-spouse as an agent under a medical power of attorney. Do you want the ex-spouse who you decided is not “the one” to be the one who decides what happens to you while you’re in a coma? And the fact that your ex-spouse’s name has been operatively redacted from your other important documents like your trust, will, or property power of attorney is one thing, but it does not mean the bank will know of their name removal. More importantly, the people you DO want receiving your assets or making decisions on your behalf may not be able to automatically fill the empty space that’s left behind.
The other grim news is that getting divorced from someone does not remove them as a beneficiary for assets. If in a time of marriage bliss, you named your ex-spouse as a pay-on-death beneficiary of your bank accounts. Boom. They get those funds at your death. The same thing is true for other assets like life insurance, investment accounts, etc. So, if you were to kick the proverbial bucket without updating your plan, what kind of mess would you leave behind?
While we can’t advise on any particular course of action in a blog post, we can make some broad-stroke recommendations.
First of all, it’s vital that you change any existing medical power of attorney illustrated in the above example—so that your very life is not in the hands of someone you recently decided should not be a part of your life. The second task is to review all of your other estate planning documents. You may have also designated your ex-spouse as a financial decision-maker such as an agent, executor, or trustee. Being divorced may mean you want to name a new guardian for your minor children, which is done in a will. In most cases, it’s best to revoke and redo the underlying documents. This way, you can be sure you have given authority to someone you trust to act in your best interests (or that of your children).
But as to who-gets-what if you pass—well, wherever your ex-spouse appears should be changed too. This means naming new beneficiaries to receive your assets so your ex-spouse will no longer be listed. In addition, both primary and alternate beneficiaries should be chosen (if your primary beneficiaries cannot receive the assets for any reason). And, as part of a fully-considered estate plan, it means changing the beneficiaries you may have listed on any accounts such as life insurance policies , IRAs, payable-on-death bank accounts, etc.
Contact Us Help With Recently Divorced Estate Planning Advice
If you’re considering re-creating your estate plan to reflect your new reality, a good place to start is by attending one of Promise Law’s free estate planning workshops. These workshops provide a great foundation of information that everyone needs to make sound planning decisions. Moreover, if you attend a workshop, you also get a complimentary one-on-one consultation.