Updating your will, trust, and beneficiary designations is crucial after a divorce. If you don’t take these steps, your assets could be distributed in ways that you don’t want if you pass away. An Orange County estate planning attorney will help you throughout the entire process to make it easy on you during a stressful time. 

Take these steps to make sure that your estate plan reflects your wishes. 

1. Revoke Your Will 

Revoking your old will or tearing it up and making a new one is a great start to the process. If you don’t currently have a will, after a divorce is one of the best times to make one. Hiring an Orange County estate planning lawyer will help you understand how to make a will and ensure that everything is done according to your wishes. This step should also be followed if you made a living trust while you were married and want to make some changes. 

Why Do You Need a Will?

Many people don’t understand the importance of a will or the importance of making a new will after a divorce. Remember, a will is where you leave your property to someone of your choice, name an executor to handle your estate, and nominate a guardian for your children.

All of these aspects of a will are affected by a divorce, so it’s important to understand each one. 

Leaving Property

Most people make a will when they are married so that they can leave everything to their spouse. After a divorce, you may change your mind about this. You will want to name new beneficiaries and alternate beneficiaries who will inherit your property. 

In many states, if you get divorced after you make a will, anything that your will gives your former spouse is automatically revoked. This does not affect the rest of the will. 

However, it’s not always in your best interest to rely on this law because laws are subject to change. The law also doesn’t take effect until after you have finalized the divorce. If you unexpectedly pass away while the divorce process is not complete, your spouse can still inherit anything mentioned in the will.

Relying on these laws can also create uncertainty about the property that you left to your former spouse. If you didn’t name an alternate beneficiary, then the property will pass under state law to your closest living relatives. 

With so much potential for complications, it’s much simpler to create a brand new will so that you understand exactly where your property goes. 

Naming an Executor

If you don’t want your former spouse to inherit your property, then odds are they shouldn’t be in charge of your estate. Unless you make a new will, your former spouse may still be named your executor after divorce. 

In most states, divorce revokes the appointment of your ex-spouse to serve as the executor or trustee. If you named an alternate executor, they would then serve instead. However, don’t rely on state law; your new will appoint a new executor and an alternate so that you can be sure. 

Naming a Guardian 

Most married couples make wills so that they can name a guardian who would raise their children when neither parent could. A court may appoint a guardian to care for a child only when both parents are deceased or unfit. If you don’t want your former spouse to raise your children for reasons that a court may find invalid, it’s typically not something that you can prevent. 

In your will, though, you can name someone to serve as the guardian in case both you and the other parent aren’t able to take care of a child. If you believe that the other parent should not have custody, you should write down your reasons in a letter and attach that to your will so that the judge will have your considerations. 

This may be one aspect where estate planning lawyers are of help. They have dealt with these problems between divorced parents and can help you draft a letter that explains to the judge why your former partner is unfit. 

2. Update Beneficiaries 

Once you update your will, you may find that you have more valuable assets than you did before. Plenty of assets are passed outside of the will to those named in the paperwork provided by a bank or insurance company.

You should make sure to update and change your beneficiary designations for:

  • Life insurance policies
  • Retirement accounts
  • Pay-on-death bank accounts

To name a new person, you need to request new documents from your bank, employer, or brokerage company and submit them. You should never assume that state law will revoke any of these designations automatically. The paperwork must be changed and updated so that you can avoid giving any of your assets to your former spouse. 

3. Decide on New Powers of Attorney

Powers of attorney are signed documents that give someone else the authority to act on your behalf. They are a huge part of your estate plan and need to be changed after the finalization of a divorce. You should always have two powers of attorney for:

  1. Healthcare and medical decisions
  2. Financial matters

If your former spouse is given the authority to make decisions on your behalf, you may need to revoke them and make new documents to avoid problems in the future. 

Navigating through all of the legal and necessary steps, paperwork, and documentation can be difficult, especially if you make a will with your spouse years ago when you first got married or had children — updating your estate plan after divorce is an absolutely crucial step and should be done promptly and correctly. 

Remember, trusting that the state laws will automatically change your will so that your spouse doesn’t inherit everything might be a big mistake. To help you complete the process, our Orange County estate planning services are available when you need them. 

What else would you like to know about estate planning after divorce? Let us know in the comments!

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