Divorce is more common now than it was in the past, as is remarriage. Depending on how long a prior marriage lasted, the former couple may have engaged in certain levels of estate planning together. When that is the case, it is important to understand how a subsequent marriage can impact the estate planning from a prior marriage. If you or someone named in your estate planning documents has remarried, there are several major issues that you should be aware of as well as steps you should take to ensure your estate planning continues to be appropriate for your current situation.
Understand How Your Existing Estate Plan Will Operate If Left Unaddressed
First, do you understand how your current estate plan will operate at your or your former spouse’s death? Most states’ laws assume that a divorced spouse does not want their former spouse to inherit anything from them. So even if a will, a trust, or a life insurance policy names a former spouse as a beneficiary, there is a high likelihood that the law will prevent the named ex-spouse beneficiary from receiving the distribution from the deceased ex-spouse’s estate.
But be careful! This is not true in all states. Thus, regardless of what your existing estate plan says, you must be diligent in reviewing your estate plan, as well as beneficiary designations for your life insurance policies and retirement accounts, to ensure that an ex-spouse is no longer named as a beneficiary unless the terms of your divorce settlement require it. In addition, if you still want your former spouse to benefit from your estate in any way, speak to an attorney to ensure that your objectives will be met even if your state has a statute that would prevent it. It is also wise to review your divorce decree to check whether it contains a court order to retain an ex-spouse or minor children as named beneficiaries on a life insurance policy insuring your life.
Just as important, if you want your current spouse to be the beneficiary of your estate planning or insurance policies and retirement accounts, you should update those beneficiary designations. On the other hand, if you wish to designate other family members instead of your current spouse as beneficiaries, you need to update your beneficiary designations in your estate documents and financial records accordingly.
Similarly, if you are still assuming that you will inherit or be entitled to some money and property or benefits from a former spouse, determine whether those assumptions remain true. Often, remarriage will impact your ability to qualify for certain government and pension benefits such as Veteran’s Administration benefits, Social Security benefits, or even survivor’s pension benefits from a deceased spouse’s employer. If those assumptions are no longer accurate, be sure to take that into consideration when updating your estate planning documents.
We Can Help
We hope the above examples have underscored the point that remarriage is a significant enough life event that you should work with your estate planning attorney to carefully update your estate documents to reflect your current situation and intent. If you need help thinking through these various considerations for your own circumstances, please contact us. We have the expertise and experience to help ensure that your estate plan will work for you and your family exactly as you intend.