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How Does A Divorce Affect A Will

How Does A Divorce Affect A Will

Divorce impacts many aspects of a party's life, including that party's estate planning devices, such as a will. The exact impacts of divorce and the extent of those impacts vary by state, though. This is because the laws applicable to both areas, family law for divorce and estate planning for wills, are state-specific laws.

In some state jurisdictions, a divorce actually revokes the will entirely, while, in other states, a divorce will reverse or cancel only the portions of the will that made transfers of property to the former spouse (but the remainder of the will survives intact). A decedent's will might also be impacted by a divorce even if there are no provisions in the will that directly regard the decedent's former spouse. For instance, if a will's bequests to a party's children conflict with the provisions in a divorce decree to the former spouse for some of the same property at issue in both documents, then the will provisions might likely be trumped by the divorce decree.

How to Protect Your Will

So, what does a party involved in a divorce do to best protect his or her estate planning interests? First, a party obtaining a divorce should review his will to ensure that the will is still intact and in full force and effect after the divorce is finalized. Next, the party should review the will to make sure that it expresses his intentions and adapts to any changed financial and other circumstances after the divorce. Trusts, joint tenancy with a right of survivorship property, insurance policies, joint bank accounts, pay-on-death bank accounts and any other estate planning vehicles should all also likewise be reviewed and analyzed.

It is prudent not to try to adapt or modify an estate planning tool through a divorce agreement or decree. Instead, the title to property, beneficiaries named and pertinent account information should be changed for each individual piece of property. It is also prudent to contact the vendors or suppliers (banks, insurers, pension plans, etc.) directly to accomplish any changes to the naming of beneficiaries or anything regarding ownership of property. If a divorcing party wishes to remove his or her spouse as a beneficiary, it is necessary to have the pertinent trust provisions modified, as well.