I’m Getting Divorced. Should I Adjust My Estate Planning Documents?
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Divorce is a stressful situation full of changes.
You’re changing your marital status, where you live, the amount of money and property you have access to, the amount of time you have with your children, and more. Something that often gets left out when finalizing your divorce is your estate planning documents.
Things such as wills, trusts, and even retirement beneficiaries need to be changed to remove your former spouse’s name and access so that, if something happens to you, the right people receive your assets.
What Documents Do I Need to Change after My Divorce?
Along with your crucial daily living documents – bank accounts, car title, mortgage paperwork, insurance coverage – you need to update the documents that are part of your estate plan as soon as possible.
Some of the documents you’ll need to change include:
- 401K, IRA, or other retirement paperwork: Remove your former spouse as a beneficiary and designate your children, another relative, or a charity, depending on your personal situation
- Your will: Change your will so that your former spouse doesn’t get your assets, such as your home, your bank accounts, and your personal property
- Trusts: If you have trusts set up for your children or for a charity, be sure these get changed so that your former spouse doesn’t have access to them and also so that it is your death only that triggers their dispersal
- Powers of Attorney and living wills: Chances are your former spouse was listed as your Power of Attorney during your marriage. Be sure to change this paperwork to designate someone else – an adult child, a sibling, or a close friend – who can make these decisions for you in case you are too ill or injured to do so yourself
- Life insurance policy: Again, change the beneficiary of this policy to your children or another relative
Why Do I Need to Change These Documents?
When you’re married, you reap the benefits of the law on your side with regards to sharing resources.
If your spouse passes away and you’re still married, everything you have goes to them with some exceptions. Much of the paperwork and planning you do during a marriage assumes that you and your spouse will remain together, so the other person is designated as the recipient of your assets.
When you divorce, on the other hand, your property is your own. If you die, it is legally given to other relatives, including your children, siblings, or others. However, if your estate planning documents still list your former spouse as the beneficiary of things such as your life insurance policy, your retirement accounts, or your home, then those items pass to that person, regardless of whether or not you are still married.
For many divorced people, the idea of their former spouse inheriting all or some of their assets is unthinkable, but it will happen if your estate plan isn’t updated in a timely manner.
When Should I Update My Estate Plan?
As soon as you and your spouse are legally considered separated, you can change your estate planning documents to designate someone else as the beneficiary. This protects your property in the event that something unfortunate happens and you aren’t officially divorced yet.
Once your divorce is finalized, you want to revisit all these documents again and see if anything needs to be changed.
How Do I Update My Estate Plan?
In many cases, the change is as simple as striking out the names you don’t want on the document and adding in the ones you do, then getting them re-notarized.
However, for items such as your retirement accounts, you may need to get involved in a more lengthy discussion with the plan administrator, and it could require you to submit official proof of your divorce.
To ensure that everything is done legally and that you and your loved ones are protected, it’s best to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney before any paperwork is finalized. They will walk you through the documents that need changing, how to make those changes, and whether any official notice needs to be made of those changes.
Experienced Estate Planning Attorney in Washington, D.C.
At Lopez Law Firm, it is our mission to help families navigate the often emotional process of estate planning. We work with you to determine the best options to suit your needs, and we can make any changes to your documents quickly. Whether you’re looking to get your affairs in order for the first time, or are making alterations because of a life-changing event, we can help you get through the process so you have peace of mind knowing your loved ones are taken care of. Schedule your consultation today!