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People Going Through a Divorce Should Update Their Estate Plans


Late in life divorce is more common than you might think.  The media stereotype is that, if you make it past the seven-year itch and the midlife crisis, you are together forever, but the truth is more complicated.  Although Burt and Lovey Handelsman, the octogenarians who divided their Florida real estate empire when they divorced after 60 years of marriage, are an extreme example, it is possible for marriages to fall apart when couples are old enough to have made an estate plan. Divorce can come as a shock even to people who were unhappy in their marriages for a long time, and while you are adjusting to your new life as a newly single senior, you probably have many other things on your mind besides updating your estate plan.  If you or your spouse has recently filed for divorce, though, you should not wait to meet with an estate planning attorney.

Division of Property Does Not Apply Beyond the Grave

If you celebrated getting your driver’s license by playing your cassette tape of “Drive” by the Cars and turning up the volume, then news that Ric Ocasek, the lead singer of The Cars, died this year, was probably a sobering memento mori.  If you were such a fan that you even listened to The Cars in stationary structures, though, you probably followed the news saying that Ocasek wrote his estranged wife Paulina Porizkova, whom he was in the process of divorcing, out of his will.  If he had not done so, she would have inherited a large share of his estate, if not the entire estate, as if they had never separated.

From the perspective of inheritance law, death stops a divorce case in its tracks, even if it had been going on for years and even if it was almost finished.  A surviving soon-to-be-ex-spouse inherits according to the same rules as any other surviving spouse.  When a married person dies without a will, his or her spouse inherits everything, which is reason enough to write a will if you want anyone besides your spouse to inherit any of your assets.  If you finalize your divorce but do not update your will, however, the provisions you made in the will for your then-spouse no longer apply.  If you want your former spouse to inherit a portion of your estate even after the divorce, you must update your will to specify this.

Update Your Beneficiaries on Non-Probate Assets

Regarding assets that transfer automatically to a listed beneficiary without going through probate, divorce does not usually affect your spouse’s status as a beneficiary.  If you want to change the beneficiary to someone other than your spouse, you must make that change explicitly.  Otherwise, your former spouse will remain the beneficiary.

Contact an Attorney for Help

Going through a divorce late in life can throw your plans into disarray, but an estate planning lawyer can help you develop a plan that benefits the people you want to benefit.  Contact Clearwater estate planning lawyer William Rambaum to discuss your questions.





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