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Divorce and Estate Planning

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We’d all like to think that once you have made a will and possibly done some other estate planning, that you’ll never have to worry about doing it again.  If an estate plan is done right AND you have no major life changes, that may very well be true.  I recently had a couple come see me who had done wills back in 1981.  They had them updated (amended via adding codicils) back in 1997.  And, for the most part, the wills were still pretty applicable today.  So, 1981 to 2018, with a minor updating in 1997 – I told them that they pretty much got their money’s worth out of those wills.  However, their life was pretty stable – they remained married that entire time and their children were already born when the wills were first drafted.  So, that was a relatively stable 37 years of their life.  Ironically, it wasn’t a change in their own marriage that led them to get a new set of wills done in 2018 – it was a situation in one of their children’s marriage that necessitated the new wills.  In this case, they were concerned about the spouse of one of their children, to the point where they felt they needed to include some protective language and inheritance mechanism for their child.

Most often, however, it is the marriage of the client that requires a re-work of an estate plan.  People who go through divorce really need to review their estate plan because there is little doubt that significant changes will need to be made.  Even more, people who have never had an estate plan need to review their situation to ensure that their property goes to the correct people should they pass away unexpectedly.  For example, if you are like many Americans, you have a 401(k) plan at work.  If you set it up when you were married, you likely listed your spouse as a beneficiary.  If you have since gotten divorced, did you go back and change that election?  The 401(k) plan custodian is going to distribute that money to whomever you have listed in your beneficiary designation, regardless of whether you’ve gotten a divorce.  There are a number of other, similar issues to consider after a divorce.  And especially if you tried to save some money when doing your divorce by using only one attorney, or maybe a “discount” divorce attorney, you may have a lot more loose ends hanging out there than you can imagine.  So, if you’ve gone through a divorce, once the dust has settled, make an appointment with an estate planning attorney to at least discuss what issues need to be dealt with.  Most estate planning attorneys offer free initial consults (my office certainly does), so you really have little to lose other than an hour or so of your time.