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Divorce and your estate plan: what you need to know

by | Jun 11, 2021 | Estate Planning |

Divorce can be difficult for anyone, even if the marriage ends in an amicable fashion. There are seemingly countless decisions to make and questions to answer. Will you sell the house, or will one of you continue to live there? Who gets custody of the children? Where will the pets live? (And many, many more.)

One thing you may not have considered when pondering a split from your spouse is how it will affect your existing estate plan. This is something of great importance, though, and it needs to be addressed promptly.

What happens to my will?

Pennsylvania law automatically revokes any specific will bequests to a spouse upon divorce. If you left everything to your spouse, the law essentially views it like you don’t have a will at all. Instead, the laws of intestate succession will apply, leaving your estate assets and decisions at the mercy of the court. This isn’t ideal, so you need to take action to assure that it won’t happen. You’ll need to draft a new will, one that assigns your property in the manner you see fit.

You may also need to determine a new guardian for your minor children’s assets in the event of your passing if you aren’t comfortable with your former spouse filling this role any longer. This could involve updating both a will and a revocable trust.

Will my beneficiary assignments change?

Surprisingly, these are not automatically revoked after a split. You need to proactively go in and change each existing beneficiary assignment to suit your new circumstances. This could affect everything from life insurance policies payable upon death to 401(k) payouts and bank accounts to retirement funds.

Some divorce decrees will require that the parties keep life insurance on the other, however, so you’ll want to check with your lawyer before making changes.

How are other key documents impacted?

A complete estate plan consists of more than just a will and a trust. Other important documents, including durable powers of attorney and health care proxies, will also need updating if you named your spouse as a key decision-maker for you. After all, you might no longer want your ex to be in charge of making care determinations for you in the event of your incapacitation, just as you might now feel uncomfortable with him or her having access to your financial accounts.


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