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5 Estate Planning Must-Do’s if You’re Getting Divorced. Part 1

Estate Planning Must-Dos if You’re Getting Divorced, Part 1

Divorce can be traumatic for the whole family. Even if the process is amicable, it involves many tough decisions, legal hassles, and painful emotions. Those things can drag out over several months, or even years. How much control do you want your ex to have over your life and assets? If the answer is none, this article is for you.

It’s absolutely critical that you review and update your estate plan—not only after the divorce is final, but as soon as possible once you know the split is inevitable.

Even after you file for divorce, your marriage is legally in full effect until your divorce is finalized. That means if you die while the divorce is still pending and you haven’t updated your estate plan, your soon-to-be-ex spouse could end up inheriting everything. Maybe even worse, if you’re incapacitated before the divorce is final, your ex would be in complete control of your legal, financial, and healthcare decisions.

While some state laws limit your ability to completely change your estate plan once your divorce has been filed, these are some of the most important updates you should consider making as soon as possible when divorce is on the horizon.

1. Update your power of attorney documents for healthcare, financial, and legal decisions

If you are incapacitated by illness or injury during the divorce, who would you want making life-and-death healthcare decisions on your behalf? If you’re in the middle of divorce, chances are you’ll want someone other than your soon-to-be ex making these important decisions for you.

Who would you want managing your finances and making legal decisions for you? In light of the impending split, you’ll most likely want to select another individual, particularly if things are anything less than friendly between the two of you. Again, you have to take action if you do not want your spouse making these decisions for you. Don’t wait, contact us if you know divorce is coming.

2. Update your beneficiary designations

Failing to update beneficiary designations for assets that do not pass through a will or trust, such as life insurance policies and retirement accounts, is one of the most frequent—and tragic—planning mistakes made by those who get divorced. If you get remarried following your divorce, for example, but haven’t changed your IRA beneficiary designation to name your new spouse, the ex you divorced 10 years ago could end up with your retirement savings upon your death.

In most states, once either spouse files divorce papers with the court, neither party can legally amend their beneficiaries without the other’s permission until the divorce is final. So if you’re anticipating a divorce, you may want to consider changing your beneficiaries prior to filing divorce papers. If your divorce is already filed, you should consult with us to see if changing beneficiaries is legal in your state—and in your best interest.

Finally, if naming new beneficiaries is not an option for you now, once the divorce is finalized it should be your number-one planning priority. In fact, put it on your to-do list right now!

Next week, we’ll continue with part two in this series on the critical estate-planning updates you should make when divorce is inevitable. 

This article is a service of attorney Myrna Serrano Setty. Myrna doesn’t just draft documents, she ensures you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why Myrna offers a Planning Session, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. Call our office today to schedule a Planning Session. Mention this article to find out how to get this session at no charge.

Call (813) 514-2946 to schedule your Planning Session.

Robin Williams’ Family Fight Over Personal Property is NOT So Funny

In 2014, the famous actor and comedian Robin Williams died. In 2015, his wife of 3 years, Susan Williams, ended up in a bitter court battle with his children from prior marriages over personal items that belonged to him. Williams’ wife claimed that his children had taken personal items from the couples’ Tiburon, CA home without her permission.

According to the children, these items were part of the inventory of personal property conveyed by certain trusts that their father had established for their benefit. Williams’ trust granted his children his memorabilia and awards from the entertainment industry, along with other items.

Ambiguity? Or Theft?

His widow, Susan Williams, claimed that since they lived together in their own house in Tiburon, and there was a separate residence in Napa, it stands to reason he wanted the children to receive items from the Napa residence and she was to receive the property from the Tiburon home.

Attorneys for the two sides appeared to offer conflicting characterizations of the court case. Susan Williams’ attorney said she was just seeking a clarification from the court. But the attorney for the children said she had accused them of stealing items that belonged to her.

The Robin Williams’ estate underscores the need to specify exactly which personal items you are giving to family members by trust or will so there is no ambiguity once you pass.  It’s this ambiguity that causes family in-fighting and costs excessive amounts of time, money and energy, even (and maybe even especially) when the estate is of small value.

Blended Families Need to be Clear

Especially in a blended family situation, like with Robin Williams’ family, it’s important to be extremely clear about whether children from a prior marriage should receive any money or other assets at the time of your death or if they should wait for all inheritance until the death of your spouse.

This is one of the situations that is most likely to result in strife and complication after death, and it’s so straightforward and easy to deal with ahead of time.

The best way to learn about protecting your family is to talk with us about a Planning Session, where we can identify the best strategies for you to provide for and protect the financial security of your loved ones. Contact us at (813) 514-2946 to learn more about how you can get this valuable session for free.