Following a divorce, one of the most important steps to take is updating your estate plan, so it reflects your new wishes and post-divorce assets.
Make Changes After Divorce
First, though, make sure you’re making these changes following a divorce – some state laws will limit your ability to disinherit a spouse, so you’ll want to make sure the divorce has been finalized by the applicable state court. (On the other hand, in many states, a divorce automatically removes your ex-spouse as an agent in documents like a Health Care Proxy or Durable Power of Attorney, so this will provide some protection for you until your new documents are finished.)
Review Divorce Decree and Separation Agreement
Second, you should review your divorce decree and separation agreement carefully – many separation agreements contain requirements for spouses to maintain some level of support, which could include items more traditionally thought of estate planning. For instance, you may be required to maintain your former spouse (or your children) as beneficiaries on a life insurance policy, or you may need to ensure they receive a set percentage of your retirement account assets, and these requirements can limit your options when it comes to your post-divorce estate plan.
Assess Financial Situation
Third, you’ll want to start compiling information about your current financial situation, much of which you may have from the divorce proceedings. Knowing how much you have in assets and how and where those assets are held (whether in real property, bank accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts) is extremely important to seeing your entire financial picture and making informed decisions about how to protect and pass along those assets.
Start from Scratch
Finally, be prepared to start from scratch – it will be important to create a completely new set of documents, and revisit your health care proxies, durable power of attorney, last will and testament, and any trusts you have in place, along with your life insurance policies, annuities, retirement accounts, and any beneficiary designations you’ve made to these or other accounts. It’s best to work with a financial planner to help organize your financial picture as you start your new, post-divorce life, and to ensure all your professional advisors (your financial planner, your accountant, and your attorney) are working together.