When to Start Changing Your Estate Planning Documents After a Divorce

If you are involved in one of the 2.4 million divorces happening each year, your estate plan might be the last thing on your mind. It is certainly important to remember to update these documents after your divorce, but many people are left wondering when to start the process. Here are some things to know if it is time to revise your estate plan after a divorce.

What Documents to Update As Soon As You Decide to Divorce

There are certain documents you can change the second you decide you no longer want to be with your spouse. First of all, it is a good idea to change your advance health care directive. Changing this document ensures your soon-to-be ex will not be the one deciding how to care for you, even before the divorce is official.

Likewise, a durable power of attorney or financial power of attorney document should also be changed before your divorce. This keeps your ex-partner from being able to mess around with your financial affairs while you are incapacitated. Just in case you become seriously ill while going through the divorce process, you do not want to leave your ex to handle important matters for you.

Finally, changing your will as soon as possible is very important. In New Jersey, any clauses that refer to your spouse are automatically revoked once the divorce is finalized. However, you want to make sure that if you pass away while working on your divorce, your soon to be ex-spouse does not inherit your assets. Though it is possible for your children to get an estate planning litigation lawyer and contest a will that leaves property to your soon to be ex, you do not want to set your heirs up for a frustrating and time-consuming legal battle.

Which Documents Can Only Be Finalized After Divorce?

Updating your estate plan gets a little more complicated when trusts are involved. Many estate planning trusts are irrevocable trusts that are not meant to be changed. If you worked with a good estate planning lawyer to create the trust, it will most likely list your “spouse,” “wife,” or “husband” as the beneficiary instead of stating their name. This allows you to update a trust after divorce without undermining the original terms. For this type of trust, your divorce will need to be final before it can be updated.

Things also get complicated for items such as trusts, life insurance, or retirement benefits, that might be you and your spouse’s joint property. In most cases, changing these before the divorce without your ex’s consent can cause problems. It may be easier to wait until the divorce is finalized, but you will need to consult with a lawyer and find the best plan for your situation.

The Dangers of Waiting Too Long to Update Your Estate Plan

When you are dealing with all the paperwork of divorce, it is tempting to delay adding extra work to your schedule. Unfortunately, accidents can happen easily. If something goes wrong before you update your plan, you could end up having your ex take over a lot of your assets. It is better to plan ahead and revise documents as soon as you can.

Even though your divorce does invalidate certain types of documents, you should not just expect items to update automatically when you divorce. Provisions left to stepchildren or other people you know through your ex will not be invalidated by your divorce. Furthermore, you can then end up in a tricky situation, where assets meant to go to your ex are just left up for grabs. If you want to make sure each of your heirs gets exactly what you want them to, you need to revise your estate plan.

At the Knee Law Firm, our team of lawyers is dedicated to helping you find the right plan for your situation. If it is time to update your plans, contact our Hackensack office as soon as possible. Call 201-996-1200 or fill out our online form to schedule your appointment.