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Estate Planning for Women After a Divorce

As soon as the dust settles after divorce, women need to take care of other paperwork to avoid problems now and down the road. A California estate planning attorney can help you get ready for the next act of your life. Here are a few examples of ways to protect yourself and your loved ones.

Time to Update

Update your estate planning documents, particularly your will and living trust. You do not want to die intestate. Also, you do not want your former spouse to claim the right to serve as the executor of your will or the trustee of your living trust, or to receive assets from your old will or trust.

Have your estate planning lawyer read your divorce documents to see if your estate will have any obligations to your former spouse when you die, like a life insurance policy that will pay out to your ex-spouse. You will need to make sure that you buy and maintain the life insurance policy, update the beneficiary designation on the policy, and mention the life insurance policy in your estate plan, to avoid confusion or disputes down the road. 

Speaking of life insurance, make sure that you review the beneficiaries of all of your life insurance policies and retirement accounts. Update these designations to reflect the people you now want to receive these funds in the event of your death.  If you mistakenly leave your ex-spouse on the account as beneficiary, or fail to name a new beneficiary, your desired beneficiaries may be unable to receive your assets as you intend them to.

Try to think of all the possible payouts to others when you die, and make sure you change the named beneficiaries as necessary. For example, you might have an accidental death benefit through your automobile insurance or credit cards. You will want to update these beneficiary designations so that your former spouse does not receive these funds by default.

Update your durable power of attorney for financial matters and your power of attorney for medical decisions. If you are severely injured or become ill and cannot make medical or financial decisions for yourself, you do not want your former spouse handling those matters while you are incapacitated. 

Protect Your Children

You might consider setting up a trust for your minor children, naming someone else (not your former spouse) as the trustee until the children turn 18 or older. Also, if your children are under the age of 18, consider the issue of guardianship. 

Your former spouse is likely to get custody of the children if you do not survive until the children reach the majority age.  But you can still nominate someone else as a back-up guardian, just in case, and state the reason for those wishes in your will or trust.  For example, a parent with significant issues like addiction or economic problems might want an excuse to avoid the responsibility of parenting. The former spouse can say that letting the third party raise the children was done to honor your wishes.

Wrapping Up Details

If you receive a life estate in the family residence as part of the marital settlement, and the property reverts to your former spouse when you pass on, you need to make arrangements for what will happen to your personal property in the house at that time. You will also need to make sure that your will or living trust does not grant the house to someone else, if this gift contradicts the terms of the marital settlement. 

You might want to inform your close loved ones about the general terms of the divorce, to avoid surprises in the event of your death. Contact us today for a consultation. It is often worthwhile to meet with a California estate planning attorney to go over your divorce documents and create a strategy that protects you and your loved ones going forward.