Estate planning frequently takes a backseat to emotion in a divorce. Even when both parties agree that ending their relationship is the best solution for their marital woes, divorce can be an emotionally and financially excruciating experience. Regardless of how much you might think you have prepared for the roller coaster ride that your life becomes during, and immediately after a divorce, nothing can fully prepare you for it. Avoid the 5 estate planning mistakes:
1. Making it difficult to identify separate property.
Some states have established two classifications of property in a divorce: separate and marital. Marital property is real or personal property acquired during the marriage or property acquired together by the parties prior to the marriage. Marital property is subject to distribution by the court in a divorce action.
Separate property is usually defined as property acquired prior to the marriage by one of the parties that retains its identity as belonging to one of the parties. Separate property is not subject to distribution by a court as part of a divorce. Problems occur when courts cannot identify property as being separate. For example, a home purchased and owned by a person prior to a marriage could lose its status as separate property if marital funds are used to pay the mortgage or do renovations on the home.//insurance.ultratrust.com/life-insurance-retirement-planning.html
Placing separate property in an irrevocable trust established prior to a marriage can eliminate or minimize questions concerning the legitimacy of a claim that property is separate rather than marital. Homes and businesses are properties that can be transferred to an irrevocable trust to retain their separate status because ownership is in the name of the trust and not the individual.
Irrevocable trusts that were created before the marriage or even jointly during the marriage most likely will NOT count as marital assets. Often a wealthy person, prior to marriage, may place a bulk of their assets in an irrevocable trust to avoid having the awkward prenuptial conversation and still protect the assets in the event of divorce.
2. Failing to change your life insurance beneficiary.
A life insurance policy is a contract between you and the insurance company. You agree to pay your premiums in return for which the insurance company agrees to pay a specified sum of money on your death to the beneficiary you name in the policy. The insurance company is obligated to pay the person whose name you list as the beneficiary even if that person is your ex-spouse.
A recent case Maretta v. Hillman, 722 S.E.2d 32 (Va. 2012), proves just how big this problem can be. A federal employee designated his wife as a beneficiary, divorced and remarried. He then died leaving everything to his current wife. His ex-wife however claimed the over $100,000 in life insurance and his current wife took him to court. Virginia has a law stating that, upon divorce, the ex-wife is no longer considered a beneficiary on life insurance policies. This was a federal policy, however the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the ex-wife.
This could also be a good time to evaluate your life insurance needs. If you do not have children, you might not need as much insurance as when you were married.
3. Forgetting to revoke a power of attorney.
Remember those forms you filled out at the attorneys office when you created your will? Most likely, one of them was a power of attorney. This form gave your now ex-wife power to take care of your finances probably at any time, but at the very least when you become incapacitated.
The laws in a handful of states (but not most) terminate a power of attorney upon divorce, which names a spouse as the attorney in fact. This is not, however, the case in all states. The best course of action is to review your power of attorney with your legal advisor to determine the effect your divorce will have on it.
4. Thinking a divorce cancels provisions in your “Will” pertaining to your spouse.
Many married couples name each other in their last will and testament as the executor and leave all or the bulk of their estates to each other. A divorce does not cancel or invalidate portions of your will pertaining to your spouse. It is up to you to change your will with a codicil that amends an existing will but does not terminate it, or you can prepare a new will and destroy the old one.
Some people become confused when they hear that the law in their state automatically terminates a person’s rights to inherit property from a divorced spouse. Such laws pertain to situations in which a person dies intestate without leaving a valid last will and testament. If you have a last will and testament, you must change it on your own to avoid having your former spouse share in your estate.
If you have an irrevocable trust, however, that does not name your ex-wife as beneficiary, you don’t have to do anything. A revocable trust, however, was most likely divided during the divorce already!
5. Not contacting financial institutions.
Most people remember to close joint checking and savings accounts or at least arrange to remove their former spouse from the accounts. It is surprising how many divorced individuals forget to notify financial institutions about making changes to the places that hold typically the big money such as their IRA, 401(k) or other retirement plans.
Retirement accounts or annuities usually have a beneficiary named to receive the money in the event the holder of the account dies. Contacting the financial institution or the human resources department at your place of employment will get you the information needed to update the information on your accounts including designating a new beneficiary.