Don’t Forget to Update Your Estate Plan After Divorce

Getting divorced is life-changing, but many people neglect legal and financial issues that must be addressed. Although there are certainly enough practical matters requiring immediate attention (e.g. relocation, childcare, etc.), too many newly divorced individuals neglect to check in with their estate planning attorneys to update essential documents for too long. The consequences can be devastating. Now is the time to update your estate plan to sync with your revised future.

At Surprenant & Beneski, P.C., where we serve clients throughout Southeastern Massachusetts, our experienced legal team knows how important it is for clients to keep their estate plans current as their lives and priorities change. We are always prepared to discuss necessary alterations and to draft, review, and execute new documents. 

More than that, as detail-oriented professionals, we always keep our clients aware of precisely which actions have to be taken to protect them and their families.

Pressing Reasons to Update Your Estate Plan Promptly After Your Divorce

The reasons to get in touch with your estate planning attorney as soon as possible after your divorce are compelling, mirroring the reasons you established an estate plan in the first place. 

Not only do you want to make sure you have the funds for your children’s educations and your retirement. Because accidents, illnesses, and medical events occur unexpectedly, you also want to ensure that in the event of your incapacity or death, your wishes will be followed and your loved ones will be secure. This is why you, with the assistance of a trusted estate planning lawyer, should take the following steps:

1. Update Your Health Care Proxy

It’s important to update your health care proxy so that the person you name to make medical decisions about your treatment is the person you trust most. In most cases, this will not be the ex-spouse you originally designated. 

2. Change Your Durable Power of Attorney

Change your durable power of attorney for the same reason. It is unlikely (though not impossible) that you want your ex-spouse to handle legal and financial matters for you if you become incapacitated. In most cases, you will want to revoke the existing document and name a close friend, relative, or trusted advisor to fill this position.

3. Revise Your Will and Rename Your Trustee

Revise your will and rename your trustee since your divorce severs your financial and familial ties with your ex. You will probably no longer want your ex to receive a large proportion of your assets when you die or to have control over your estate as your executor or trustee. 

4. Consider Guardianship of Minor Children by Someone Other Than Your Ex-Spouse 

Although in most cases, the other parent (your ex) will automatically take care of your children if you pass away while they are still young, there are situations in which you will not want this to happen. If, for example, your ex-spouse has a substance abuse problem, is engaged in criminal activity, or is mentally unstable, you may want to arrange for a trusted guardian to be appointed. In such cases, you may leave assets in a joint account for that person to pay for litigation if it becomes necessary to prove your ex-spouse is an unfit parent.

5. Revisit Your Beneficiary Designation

Revisit your beneficiary designation so that your retirement account funds meet the terms of your divorce agreement. The same is true for beneficiary designations on your life insurance policy. While you may want to change beneficiary designations on either, you must bear in mind that you may have to maintain the terms of your divorce agreement. Otherwise, you could leave behind a legacy of litigation. This type of issue is why it’s crucial to have a knowledgeable estate planning attorney reviewing the whole situation.

6. Create a Trust for Your Minor Children

Create a trust for your minor children unless you are comfortable having your ex-spouse manage funds your children inherit until they reach the age of 18. In most cases, it is wise to establish a revocable trust and name a reliable trustee to access and manage these assets until your children are grown. 

The Takeaway

Like other major life events, divorce requires a careful recalibration of your plans and decisions Make sure that this recalibration includes a consult with your trusted estate planning attorney who will advise you about which parts of your estate plan must be altered. Doing so will protect you, your loved ones, and the assets you worked so hard to accumulate.