Going through divorce can be an overwhelming experience that impacts nearly every facet of your life, including estate planning. Yet, with so much to deal with during the divorce process, many people forget to update their plan or put it off until it’s too late.
Failing to update your plan for divorce can have a number of potentially tragic consequences, some of which you’ve likely not considered—and in most cases, you can’t rely on your divorce lawyer to bring them up. If you are in the midst of a divorce, and your divorce lawyer has not brought up estate planning, there are several things you need to know. First off, you need to update your estate plan, not only after your divorce is final, but as soon as you know a split is inevitable.
Here’s why: until your divorce is final, your marriage is legally in full effect. This means if you die or become incapacitated while your divorce is ongoing and haven’t updated your estate plan, your soon-to-be ex-spouse could end up with complete control over your life and assets. And that’s generally not a good idea, nor what you would want.
If you were to become incapacitated by illness or injury during your divorce, the very person you are paying big money to legally remove from your life would be granted complete authority over all of your legal, financial, and medical decisions. Given this, it’s vital that you update your power of attorney documents as soon as you know divorce is coming.
Your estate plan should include both a durable financial power of attorney and a medical power of attorney. A durable financial power of attorney allows you to grant an individual of your choice the legal authority to make financial and legal decisions on your behalf should you become unable to make such decisions for yourself. Similarly, a medical power of attorney grants someone the legal authority to make your healthcare decisions in the event of your incapacity.
Without such planning documents in place, your spouse has priority to make financial and legal decisions for you. And since most people typically name their spouse as their decision maker in these documents, it’s critical to take action—even before you begin the divorce process—and grant this authority to someone else, especially if things are anything less than amicable between the two of you.
Once divorce is a sure thing, don’t wait—immediately contact us, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, to support you in getting these documents updated. We recommend you don’t rely on your divorce lawyer to update these documents for you, unless he or she is an expert in estate planning, as there can be many details in these documents that can be overlooked by a lawyer using a standard form, rather than the documents we will prepare for you.
In most states, once either spouse files divorce papers with the court, neither party can legally change their beneficiaries without the other’s permission until the divorce is final. With this in mind, if you’re anticipating a divorce, you may want to consider changing your beneficiaries prior to filing divorce papers, and then post-divorce you can always change them again to match whatever is determined in the divorce settlement.
If your divorce is already filed, consult with us and your divorce lawyer to see if changing beneficiaries is legal in your state—and also whether it’s 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 priority. In fact, put it on your to-do list right now!
Next week, we’ll continue with part two in this series on the estate-planning updates you should make when getting divorced.