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The Importance of Reviewing an Estate Plan after Divorce or Remarriage

Weber Law Feb. 10, 2015

Most people can benefit from some form of estate planning regardless of their age, wealth or family situation, but there are life changes that necessitate revising an existing estate plan.  Approximately fifty percent of marriages in the U.S. end in divorce with many of these divorces followed by remarriage.  Estate planning becomes more complex and critical when an individual has multiple marriages and children from a prior relationship.

If you are in the process of divorce, you may want to speak to an estate planning attorney promptly to avoid adverse unintended estate planning consequences.  A common estate plan for married parties includes a will or trust that leaves everything to a person’s spouse and then to the couple’s children after the surviving spouse passes away.  Although this is not the outcome that most people want after they divorce, a marital dissolution does not automatically change this outcome if estate planning documents are not updated.

Without changes to your estate plan, your ex-wife will still inherit your legacy.  If your former spouse remarries, your ex-spouse might leave all of her assets to the new spouse so your children from the first marriage are disinherited.  To prevent this type of unintended circumstances, you should take certain immediate steps:

Review and Change Beneficiary Designations: Most people do not want their former spouse to control or receive key assets like payable-on-death bank accounts, 401Ks, pension plans, insurance policies and IRAs.  Because the beneficiary designation controls succession of these assets, it is important that all assets with this type of designation be updated if you divorce.

Updating Estate Planning Documents: If you are involved in a pending divorce, you also will want to review your estate planning documents like living trust agreements, health care and financial power of attorney forms, wills, advance health care directives and any other estate planning documents.  Many people do not realize that these changes cannot wait until there is a divorce judgment.  However, sometimes a spouse will pass away while a divorce is still pending.  If the marital status has not been formerly dissolved, your spouse will inherit your estate under a will or living trust even if you are only days away from a final divorce decree.  Similarly, your soon to be ex-spouse might not be the best choice to make health care decisions for you if you become incapacitated.

Complications Associated with Remarriage: Even if you have revised your estate plan after a divorce, your estate plan will need to be revisited when you remarry.  When you enter into a second or third marriage, your new spouse will have a right to half of your property if you pass away, which is referred to as a spouse’s “elective share.”  If you want to ensure that children from your prior marriages or relationships receive a certain portion of your legacy, you should contact an experienced Kansas divorce attorney to determine what changes you should make to your estate planning documents.

If you have questions about estate planning in Kansas, we welcome the opportunity to talk to you and answer your questions.  We invite you to call the Weber Law Office or to submit an inquiry form through this website to schedule your initial consultation.