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Review Your Estate Plan After a Divorce or Separation

Estate planning binder

You may be overwhelmed by the number of changes occurring at once when you get a divorce or separate from your spouse—establishing a new household, severing financial ties to your spouse, and handling a divorce trial are all very labor-intensive. However, there’s one more critical step you’ll need to take after a divorce, especially if you’re older: updating your estate planning documents. Read on to learn more about which changes may occur automatically and which changes need to be made explicitly when you get a divorce.

Spouses listed in a will are automatically disinherited after divorce

Under New York law, once your divorce is final, a spouse who is listed as a beneficiary will be treated as though he or she predeceased you. If you listed the spouse as an executor of your will, or as someone designated to make health care decisions on your behalf through a health care proxy, that person will also be eliminated from these documents as well.

Until your divorce is final, however, your spouse will remain a beneficiary of your will. There are countless stories of spouses dying suddenly while in the midst of a divorce trial, resulting in most or all of their estate passing to someone they probably weren’t eager to enrich. You can avoid this outcome by visiting your estate planning attorney to update your will and any living trusts or advance health care directives that include your spouse as soon as you file for divorce or separation.

Automatic changes may not be ideal

In addition to the possibility that you may pass before even automatic changes to your estate planning documents occur, those automatic changes may not represent how you wish your estate to be distributed when you pass. For example, you may still wish to pass some amount of money to your ex-spouse when you die as a way of supporting a child you share. Additionally, if your spouse was listed as a beneficiary on your IRA or another investment account, the account would pass to the secondary beneficiary when your former spouse’s name is removed. This beneficiary might be a young child who is unprepared to inherit a large sum of money. You might want to consider creating a trust that will hold funds from a large account when you pass, which could not only help with any tax implications, but could also allow you to better control how those funds are ultimately paid out. An estate planning attorney can help you plan ahead after a change in your marital status.

For thorough and trustworthy assistance with your New York estate plan, contact the Poughkeepsie wills and trusts attorneys at Van DeWater & Van DeWater for a consultation, at 845-243-5214.

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