Going through a divorce is often stressful. Aside from the emotional turmoil, you’re also dealing with the legal and financial decisions that are often part of the process. You may be looking forward to the day when everything is finalized so that you can move forward with your life. But there’s one last thing that needs to be done, and it’s a task that is often overlooked by people going through a divorce. It’s time to update your estate planning documents.
Unless you take the necessary steps of updating your estate plan, your ex-spouse could end up inheriting some or all of your assets. Some of these steps can be done while the divorce is in process, but your soon-to-be ex-spouse may still have certain rights until the divorce is finalized. As a Tampa will and trust lawyer, I will tell you that the sooner you start updating everything, the more protected you’ll be.
Update Your Healthcare Proxy
A healthcare proxy allows someone else to make decisions about your healthcare if you are not able to because you are incapacitated or otherwise unable to speak for yourself. At some point, you may have named your spouse as your healthcare proxy. However, if your marriage is being dissolved, you may want to choose someone else to act on your behalf, perhaps a relative or close friend.
Change Your Power of Attorney
If you and your spouse granted one another Power of Attorney at any time during your marriage, be sure to revoke the previous document and file a new one. Until you do, your spouse will still have access to your financial affairs including bank accounts and retirement savings. If your divorce was not amicable, this could be especially disastrous. Your attorney can advise on what your rights are when it comes to protecting your assets during and after a divorce.
Revoke Your Previous Will
Hopefully you filed a will while you were married, especially if you have children. Now that you are divorced or will be soon, you’ll need to revoke your old will and draw up a new one. In your old will, you may have left your property and assets to your spouse. Failing to revoke and replace that will could possibly result in those assets being distributed to your ex-spouse regardless of your marital status. Even if your state law automatically revokes any gifts left to your spouse in your will upon divorce, it’s still a good idea to update it yourself. You’ll also want to choose a new executor whom you trust to manage your estate when you pass away.
Review Your Choices for Guardian of Your Children
Your legal options may be limited with regard to naming someone as a guardian for your minor child. When you were married, you and your spouse may have chosen someone to be their caregiver if something were to happen to you both at the same time. Once you’re divorced, the odds of both of you dying at the same time are very low. For divorced or unmarried parents, the court will usually grant custody of the child to the surviving parent. However, if you don’t feel that the other parent is fit to raise your child, you’ll need to leave behind a letter explaining your reasons for choosing someone else to be their guardian. While there’s no guarantee that your wishes will be carried out, the court may still take it into consideration.
Update Your Beneficiaries
If you have any life insurance policies, investments, or other financial assets, review those accounts and update your beneficiary information. It’s possible that your ex could still inherit those assets when you die, despite what is listed in your will or trust. In the event that you do want your former spouse to be the beneficiary, which may be the case if you want the money to be used to care for children, update the documents with a post-divorce signature date
Check with your attorney about what you can update during the divorce and what will have to be put off until the process is complete. Do what you can during the divorce and then, with the help of your attorney, review your documents again once the process is complete and make any additional needed changes. If you need help getting started, we invite you to contact a Tampa will and trust lawyer at (813) 438-8503.