Estate Planning During a Divorce or Break-Up

mgarner  -  Aug 27, 2011  -  Comments Off

If you are in the midst of a divorce or breakup, the last thing you want to do is make more decisions . . . or see another attorney.  However, making changes to your estate plan may be one of the most important actions you can take to protect yourself and your family.

Most estate plans give all of one spouse’s assets to the other.  Even if you don’t have a Will or a Trust prepared, until your dissolution is final your spouse will wind up with all, or a substantial portion, of your assets under California’s intestacy laws.  You can take control buy changing previous provisions or making a new trust.

Changing or creating your plan does not have to be difficult or time consuming.  My clients can create and finalize their plan in just two one-hour sessions.  You can make general plans now and update them once the dissolution is final and you have additional time and energy to spare.

You estate plan also affects much more than just who gets your stuff.  Your plan will control who manages your health care and financial decisions if you are too sick to direct your own care.  Your plan will also control who is nominated as a guardian for your minor children.

You should consider several areas when thinking about your estate.  Consider the beneficiaries on your 401(k), IRA, 403(b) or other retirement accounts.  Remember to check and update your life insurance beneficiaries.  You will also want to update your bank and brokerage accounts which have a “Payable on Death” beneficiary.

I have found it important to help my clients who are going through a divorce keep things simple.  We generally work with their family law attorney, financial advisor and insurance advisor to make sure changes occur smoothly and work with each client’s specific situation.  We also follow up within a year, after the dissolution is final, to review the decisions and make sure the client’s plan does reflect their current wishes.

While you may not feel like you can stand to make another decision, it is an important time to make sure your estate plan still reflects your goals.

Michael E. Garner
Cornerstone Law Center

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