You survived! Your divorce is now final, and you are ready to move on to the next chapter of your life, but there are a few more details that you do not want to overlook. Depending on how long you were married to your former spouse, his or her name is most likely all over your estate planning documents. You are probably the beneficiary of each other’s insurance policies, investments and will, and your former spouse is probably also the one designated to make financial and medical decisions for you if you are unable. This is not something that you want to put off for another day because if something unexpected happens to you, things may not go the way you would like. You want to make sure that your hard-earned assets get distributed according to your wishes and that you have someone new appointed to make decisions on your behalf if you are unable to do so.
PLANNING FOR THE UNEXPECTED
Make a New Will
Likely, your former spouse was named as the primary beneficiary in your will. If so, you should revoke that will and create a new will naming new beneficiaries and creating a new distribution plan. If you do not have a will, then it is important that you make a will.
Amend Your Trust
Just as with your will, your former spouse may be the primary beneficiary of your revocable trust. In addition, he or she may be a co-trustee with you. Most divorced individuals prefer someone other than their former spouse handle property and distributions for their children. When considering a trustee, that individual does not need to be a financial advisor or attorney, but instead the chosen trustee needs to understand that he or she should work with these professionals when needed. Generally, a good trustee should make decisions about spending money for certain expenses and financial advisors should decide which mutual funds or other investments are needed.
Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care
A durable power of attorney for health care is also known as a designation of patient advocate. Typically, couples name each other as their decision-making agent or advocate. If that was the case for you, you should revise your document to appoint someone else to be your advocate. Within the document, you can inform your doctors and loved ones of your wishes for medical and mental health care if there should come a time when you are temporarily or permanently incapacitated and unable to speak for yourself. Discuss your wishes with your doctor and your new advocate to make sure that your wishes are honored. Once you have finalized the papers, give a copy to your primary care physician to include in your records.
General Durable Power of Attorney
You will also want to review any general powers of attorney for financial matters and nominate a new agent to handle those matters for you in the event of your inability or incapacitation.
Revise Beneficiary Designations
Most people do not realize that their will or trust does not control life insurance money or investment accounts if the named beneficiaries are different. The same is true of bank accounts with “pay on death” provisions. To avoid transfer of funds to your former spouse upon your death, you will have to change the beneficiary of those policies and accounts to your estate or to your new revocable living trust.
Often this can be done online, and while it may be easier and less costly to handle these details directly with your financial advisor or bank, you will want to make sure it is handled accurately. When in doubt, have the advisor or bank call your estate planning attorney to make sure it is done correctly.
For some of you, your judgment of divorce may contain specific provisions requiring you to designate your former spouse as the beneficiary of a life insurance policy or as trustee for the children until they reach the age of majority. Be sure to review your judgment so that you don’t inadvertently make a change that results in a violation of a court order.
Update Titles to Property
After your divorce, make sure that new deeds are made in the name of the person who will be retaining ownership of the house, vacant land, rental properties and/or business property. Update the titles and the insurance policies for those properties as well as your vehicles so that they are in accord with your property settlement agreement. If your spouse is retaining ownership of the primary marital home, make sure that he or she refinances the mortgage to remove your name.
PLANNING FOR YOUR NEW FUTURE
You can do this! You’ve been through a lot already but taking these last few steps can help you enter the next chapter of your life on your terms and give you peace of mind.
While these are just a few considerations, there may be additional items specific to your situation that need your attention after your divorce. Therefore, it makes sense to meet with an experienced estate planning attorney who can offer advice on your specific situation.