Life insurance needs to be addressed during the process of a divorce. If there are children, the beneficiary may continue to be the ex-spouse, if they are going to be the person raising the children if the key breadwinner dies. But there are alternatives.
Investopedia’s article, “How Life Insurance Works in a Divorce,” explains that addressing life insurance is a critical issue in the divorce process, especially for divorcing couples with children. Maintaining life insurance protects the financial interests of both parties and their dependent children. This involves making the necessary beneficiary changes, accounting for the cash value in whole or universal life policies, protecting child support and alimony income, and—most importantly—making certain that any children involved are financially protected.
Most married couples with life insurance list their spouse as the primary beneficiary. Life insurance protects a family from financial devastation, if you die and your income is lost. For a married person, naming your spouse as your beneficiary makes certain that he or she can continue to pay the mortgage, put food on the table and possibly bring up the children without your income. Life insurance is especially critical, if you provide the majority of the income.
In a divorce, especially an acrimonious one, odds are good that you’ll no longer want your ex-spouse profiting from your death. If there are no children are involved, most life insurance policies let you change the beneficiary at any time.
Some life insurance policies, such as many whole life and universal life policies, accumulate cash value over time. Each month when you make your premium payment, some of the money is deposited into a fund that grows with interest. This is the policy's cash value, and it’s your money. Any time while the policy is active, you can forgo the death benefit and take the cash value. This is called “cashing out” your life insurance policy.
Since the cash value from a life insurance policy is part of your net worth, you should list the policy, including its cash value, as a marital asset to be divided. Frequently, when marital assets are divided evenly, half the cash value from the policy goes to each spouse.
Protecting child support or alimony income is really important for the spouse who takes primary custody of the children after the divorce. These child support funds are for feeding and clothing the children and saving for college. If the noncustodial parent isn’t around anymore, this income goes away and it could put the custodial parent in a bind. If you have custody of the children, the best way to protect yourself from this situation, is to keep a life insurance policy on your ex-spouse with a benefit amount high enough to replace your child support or alimony income at least until the last child is 18. Being the custodial parent, if your ex is irresponsible or untrustworthy, you may just purchase the policy and pay the premium yourself, since coverage stops if payments lapse.
A life insurance policy becomes more important, if an ex-spouse is no longer involved with the children and if the custodial parent is the only source of income for the family. There should be a guardian named in your estate plan and another person named to handle finances on your children’s behalf. Estate planning and life insurance are both important to protect children, when there is a divorce.
Reference: Investopedia (June 25, 2019) “How Life Insurance Works in a Divorce”