It isn’t particularly pleasant to think about what could happen in the event of one’s death or some kind of medical emergency. However, that is exactly what estate planning requires. Individuals need to contemplate what might happen to their property and loved ones in the future to protect themselves and their dependents. Drafting proper legal paperwork helps to ensure that someone has access to support in a medical emergency and provides guidance for loved ones in the event of their death.
Many people make the mistake of delaying estate planning or trying to handle the process without legal assistance. There’s also a very common mistake that occurs when people create documents and then never update them. Unfortunately, outdated estate planning documents are vulnerable to challenges in probate court and can lead to disputes among beneficiaries.
Divorce is one of the most common reasons that people need to update their estate planning documents. Why does divorce often necessitate a change to testamentary and living documents?
1. To remove the former spouse, as appropriate
It is quite common for people to include their spouses in their wills and to name them as power of attorney. They may hold positions of authority in trusts or be the main beneficiary of someone’s personal property.
Those who have divorced will need to remove their former spouse from all of their estate planning documents and even revisit their transfer on death designations and life insurance paperwork to thoroughly scrub their presence from their estate plan. Conversely, if they want to protect their spouse’s interests, they should clarify that even though they have divorced, their wishes – in whatever capacity – remain unchanged. Otherwise, the court may think that not removing one’s ex-spouse from an estate plan was simply a mistake.
2. To protect their other beneficiaries
Especially if the testator shares children with their former spouse, updating how they intend to transfer property to the next generation will be very important. The creation of a trust, for example, can prevent a former spouse from gaining control over someone’s property when they die and then using up the children’s inheritance before they become adults.
Those who take the time to choose new beneficiaries and to plan carefully for their protection will be able to leave a more meaningful legacy than those who just expect their executor or the probate courts to adjust their plan to reflect their divorced status. Knowing when to go back and update estate planning documents is as important as taking the time to create them in the first place.