Going through a divorce will likely have a major impact on your finances and assets, especially if the marital property is divvied up by a court, as our Brooklyn estate planning attorney explains. Simply getting through the process is a big enough challenge, but there’s another critical step after the divorce is finalized that many people forget to address. Once you are no longer married, you need to update your estate planning to reflect your current marital status.
What Happens to My Will After a Divorce?
Keeping an ex-spouse in your estate plan throws a major wrench in the works. It affects joint assets, medical or financial power of attorney, and many other crucial elements when preparing for the future. In general, it’s a good idea to update your estate planning every few years or anytime you have a major life change.
It isn’t hard to see why these updates are necessary when dealing with an issue like divorce. You don’t want to put your family in a situation where a former spouse is in control of your estate after you pass away because you forgot to change some forms. With the help of an attorney, you can prevent those sorts of problems before they happen rather than leaving loved ones scrambling to deal with them unexpectedly.
The good news is that under New York law, there are some critical changes made automatically as soon as a divorce is finalized. In particular, you immediately gain these protections from your former partner:
- Benefits won’t be given to the ex-spouse from life insurance policies and most pensions or retirement accounts.
- Certain revocable trust gifts or monetary accounts will no longer be disbursed to the former spouse, just as though they had pre-deceased you.
- Gifts granted in a will no longer go to your ex.
Although the law technically prevents these sorts of assets from going to your previous spouse, you still need to remove that person’s name from each individual document or account. If there is any legal question as to whether the former spouse should still be listed on documents, it can significantly slow down the overall process and put the inheritances of your heirs in jeopardy as your estate goes through probate.
The bottom line is that you can’t rely on automatic changes alone to protect your heirs. It’s also extremely important to note that divorce doesn’t typically affect irrevocable trusts you set up while married. A previous husband or wife is still legally due anything that would have gone to them from that trust upon your death.
Several other elements of your overall estate plan aren’t modified automatically after divorce and need to be manually changed with the assistance of your attorney. To avoid problems down the line, you should specifically focus on updating:
- Account co-owners
- Advanced medical directives
- Beneficiaries in your will, trusts, or any accounts that disburse payments
- Emergency medical contact
- The executor of your estate
- Financial power of attorney
- Health care proxy
Updating these estate planning tools is about more than just ensuring your hard-earned assets don’t go to someone who is no longer a part of your life or isn’t on good terms with your family. You don’t want to discover an ex has been put in charge of your health decisions or suddenly has unrestricted access to your bank accounts. Removing that person from any positions that could cause hardship for the family after your eventual death should be a top priority as soon as the ink on the divorce is dry.