So, you’ve gone through a divorce (and it’s probably taken an emotional toll) and you are thankful that the process is over….or is it? Prior to your divorce, you and your spouse may have taken the time to do your estate planning. Or perhaps you had listed your spouse as beneficiary on your life insurance and/or retirement plans? Well, what happens after a divorce? Do the beneficiary designations automatically terminate? Does your estate planning automatically terminate?
The answer to that is….it depends.
Under Florida law, any provisions under a Will or Trust which were signed while the individuals were married and that affects the former spouse will become void upon dissolution of marriage. This means that, if one of the parties dies, the provisions of the Will or Trust are construed as if the surviving former spouse had died at the time of the divorce (unless it expressly states otherwise). Similarly, a designation of a spouse as health care surrogate is revoked upon the signing of the final judgment of dissolution of marriage.Do not forget to change the beneficiary designations because these types of accounts are generally paid in accordance with who is named as the beneficiary, regardless of whether you are divorced from the designated person.
The only document which is affected by the actual filing for dissolution (as opposed to a final judgment of dissolution which must be signed by the judge) is the Durable Power of Attorney. Under the new Florida Durable Power of Attorney Statute (which became effective October 1, 2011, any authority the spouse might have as an agent under the DPOA is automatically terminated upon the filing of an action for dissolution of marriage or annulment. The purpose of this is to minimize the risk that that the soon-to-be spouse could liquidate the assets of the other spouse using the power of attorney (although, this would require the other spouse to inform banks and other institutions that a dissolution of marriage had been filed in order to put them on notice that the DPOA is no longer valid as to that spouse).
But what about those life insurance policies and retirement accounts that you designated your spouse the beneficiary while you were happily married? Do not forget to change the beneficiary designations because these types of accounts are generally paid in accordance with who is named as the beneficiary, regardless of whether you are divorced from the designated person. You should also ask your divorce attorney to make sure that your final judgment specifically addresses the fact that the former spouse will not receive any death benefits or be the beneficiary of a particular policy.