Divorce is a life-changing event, altering (among other things) where you live and with whom, the division of your marital assets, your finances, and how much time you spend with your children. You should also be aware that, in addition to all of the time-consuming, emotional effort that went into working out the details of the divorce agreement, divorce will involve making changes to the estate plan you forged as a couple.
If you are newly divorced and recognize the need the make substantive changes to your will
and other estate planning documents, you should make sure you have the assistance of a first-rate estate planning attorney. For residents of Southeastern Massachusetts or Cape
Cod, Surprenant & Beneski, P.C. is a strong choice. Our estate planning lawyers are well-
credentialed, highly skilled, and experienced in this area. More than that, they will provide you with empathy as well as guidance.
Documents and Designations That Require Change After a Divorce
At Surprenant & Beneski, we realize that your situation is unique and will pay close attention to your particular needs so that you end up completely satisfied with your new estate plan.
1. Your Will
Your will serves several purposes that may be affected by divorce, including:
- Asset Distribution
In most cases, our married clients have had us draft wills in which all of their assets are left to their spouses. Obviously, in the vast majority of cases, such wills are no longer suitable after divorce. For this reason, we recommend that you destroy the former will (the best way to avoid any confusion about which document is current), and have us draft a new one.
In most states, including Massachusetts, a will and other documents that name your ex-spouse as beneficiary will be automatically revoked when the divorce becomes final, as long as that revocation does not conflict with the stipulations of your divorce agreement.
Nonetheless, it is never a good idea to assume that state law will iron out all the wrinkles of inheritance that arise after a divorce. This is one of the reasons it is important to have a sharp estate planning attorney at your side as you tie up the loose ends.
Note: if you are an exception to the rule and want to leave assets to your ex-spouse, our attorney will help you to do this in a way that is legally binding.
- Designating an Executor
If you designated your spouse as executor in the role of administering your estate, you will also be changing this in your new will. The same may be true if the executor you previously chose was a member of your ex-spouse’s family.
- Choosing a Guardian for Your Minor Children
Your choice of guardian, a person to take care of your children if they lose both of their parents, will probably remain the same. Even if you believe your ex should not be their guardian if you die, that is not likely a decision you will have a say in unless your ex has already been found unfit as a parent.
Because there are so many blended families now, with children who don’t have different sets of parents, decisions like those mentioned can be complicated. All the more reason to have a well-informed estate planning attorney.
2. Beneficiary Designations
It’s important to remember that not all of your assets are mentioned in your will. Many other accounts and policies have individually named beneficiaries. After a divorce, such beneficiary designations will also likely require revision. The following are documents that will likely have to be updated after your divorce:
- Life insurance policies
- Retirement accounts, e.g. IRAs, 401(k)s
- Payable-on-death (POD) bank accounts
- Transfer-on-death brokerage accounts
Certain funds, such as ERISA (Employee Retirement Income Security Act) will be turned over to the beneficiary designated on the document in spite of a divorce, so it is crucial to make such changes directly.
3. Individuals Who Will Take Over for You if You Become Incapacitated
Rearranging your estate plan to fit your new status after divorce is essential to protect your assets, your personal security, and your newly structured family. Make sure to give thought to altering the following personal documents:
- Durable Power of Attorney to name the individual you authorize to take any necessary legal or financial actions in your name if you become incapacitated.
- Health Care Proxy to designate the person you want to make medical decisions on your behalf if you become unable to communicate your wishes.
- HIPAA Release Form to name the people you want to have access to your medical records and be able to confer with healthcare providers about your diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment.
Contact Our Experienced Estate Planning Attorneys Today
While altering all of the documents mentioned in this content may seem overwhelming, making the above changes to your estate plan after divorce is critical to enabling you to move forward with confidence and peace of mind. Contact Surprenant & Beneski for the reassurance that comes of working with a committed professional.