Estate planning considerations during a divorce

Estate planning is an ongoing process, not something you do once and forget about. When major life events happen, like a spouse filing for divorce, you will want to revisit and update your estate planning documents to ensure they reflect your current wishes.

It is important to update estate planning documents during the divorce process to protect yourself and your end of life wishes. Forgetting to update these documents could leave your spouse in control of making decisions for your well-being, if something unexpected happens to you before the divorce is finalized rendering you unable to make decisions for yourself. Your spouse could even inherit your personal belongings or other personal assets that he or she may not have gotten in the divorce.

According to a recent Forbes article, the following are some estate planning actions you can take during a divorce:

  • Change your power of attorney. When married, you may have chosen your spouse as your agent in a medical power of attorney or a durable (financial) power of attorney. You will need to revoke any power of attorney that gives him or her control of your end of life decisions. You will also want to appoint someone else, like a responsible adult child, as your agent.
  • Update your will. Although you must be careful not to give away anything that is completely or partially owned by your spouse, you can alter what you would like done with the items you solely own. If this is not done and you die before the divorce is finalized, your spouse could end up with everything.
  • Find out what you can and cannot alter. Your spouse is likely the beneficiary on any life insurance, retirement accounts and pensions you may have. In most cases you will not be able to alter these documents until after the divorce is finalized, but it is a good idea to create a list of these assets now and form an awareness of what changes you are allowed to make and when you are allowed to make them.

Although there are several estate planning documents you cannot alter during your divorce, by updating what you can, you ensure you retain as much control as possible if you die or are incapacitated before the divorce is finalized. However, because estate planning is an ongoing process, you must also plan to revisit your documents after your divorce is finalized to make additional changes you might not be able to make now.

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