Palm Springs Law Blog

Sunday, April 30, 2023

Estate Planning Post-Divorce

Many things change after a divorce. You will probably change residences, see your children part-time, and lose possession of at least some of your marital assets. And while you can fight to control these changes, they happen largely out of your control. Instead, a judge often has the last word on your final divorce decree.

But there is one thing you can control. Once you are divorced, you have total control over how your family should handle your final wishes. From property distribution to funeral and burial plans, you have the final say through your estate plan.

Property Distribution

Your top priority after a divorce will be to adjust your property distribution. Your former estate plan probably named your ex-spouse as your primary or sole heir. You need to restructure your estate plan if you want other people to take your property after your death.

The most thorough option to name different designees is to revoke your former will or living trust and create a new one. You may need to do this anyway because the property you own has changed. And if you did not have a will or trust, a divorce is a good occasion to create one.

When you create a new will or living will, you can name new designees or beneficiaries.

Powers of Attorney

If you had a prior estate plan, you probably granted powers of attorney to your ex-spouse. If you did not have an estate plan, you need to grant powers of attorney.

You can grant two types of powers of attorney:

Financial Power of Attorney

A financial power of attorney allows someone else to make financial decisions for you, such as:

  • Paying bills
  • Writing checks
  • Making deposits
  • Selling property
  • Paying taxes

Your financial agent can act while you are incapacitated. But you can also appoint an agent to act in your place while you still have the capacity to act on your own.

Healthcare Power of Attorney

A healthcare power of attorney gives someone the authority to make medical decisions on your behalf. Unlike a financial agent, your healthcare agent can only act if you become incapacitated.

Beneficiary Designations

One part of estate planning that many clients overlook is their beneficiary designations. When you set up almost any account, you usually identify a beneficiary that receives the benefits of the account when you die. Examples of accounts where you may need to update your beneficiary designations include:

  • Bank accounts
  • Brokerage accounts
  • Retirement accounts, like 401(k) or IRA accounts
  • Pension accounts
  • Life insurance policies

Beneficiary designations are important because accounts with beneficiaries often bypass probate.

Child Guardianship

If you have joint custody as a result of your divorce, your ex-spouse will probably take full custody at your death. But if a judge awarded you full custody, you need to identify someone to take guardianship at your death.

A judge does not need to abide by your guardianship selection. But it often carries some weight when the judge awards custody of your children.

This might be particularly important if you received full custody and filed for divorce due to problems with your ex-spouse, such as:

  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Domestic violence
  • Mental illness

A judge will take these problems into account in awarding guardianship of your children, and your designation will help.

Executor Identification

Your executor acts in your place while the probate court winds up your estate. The executor carries out your instructions in distributing property. The probate judge in your case will issue orders for your executor. And your estate lawyer will work with your executor to make sure your wishes get carried out.

Updating Your Estate Plan After Divorce

Revising your estate plan is not a matter of cutting off your ex-spouse. Instead, think of it as a way for you to document your wishes based on new information and relationships.

At Heritage Legal, our experienced team proudly prioritizes both integrity and excellent results. Contact Heritage Legal for a free consultation to discuss updating your estate plan with a compassionate estate law firm in Palm Springs, CA.

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