Divorce can mark a fresh start and a new beginning. Making a fresh start, however, can be more than worth it, but can be difficult, nonetheless. After all, divorce proceedings are stressful and divorce can generally be an emotional time. There are logistical things that will need to be handled, emotions to process, and so much more. In making this fresh start, you will want to make sure that your estate plans reflect the major life change you are undergoing. After all, estate plans are only most effective when they account for your most current circumstances and goals.
Reviewing Your Estate Plan Post-Divorce
In Pennsylvania, the law provides that any provision in a will or revocable trust that leaves assets to a spouse or names a spouse to a fiduciary role such as personal representative or trustee is rendered ineffective after both the filing of the divorce petition and establishment of the grounds for divorce. Furthermore, Pennsylvania law provides that any power of attorney, health care surrogate, or advance medical directive that names a spouse as an agent will be rendered invalid and revoked upon filing for divorce.
While these laws are nice to have on hand, especially for those that may not have updated estate plans after a divorce, it is always best not to rely on state law to make sure these sorts of things happen. After all, these types of laws are inconsistent across different states and laws can always be subject to change. The best practice to ensure your wishes are protected is to update your estate plans accordingly.
For starters, you are going to want to take a look at how your assets are set to be distributed by your estate plan. This means looking at your will, trusts, and other assets with beneficiary designations that you may have. Assuming you no longer want your former spouse to inherit, it is likely that all or a lot of this will need to be changed. In addition to updating will and trust beneficiaries, be sure to update beneficiaries under financial accounts such as pay-on-death accounts or transfer-on-death accounts. Furthermore, make a point to update life insurance beneficiary designations as well as retirement account beneficiary designations.
You may have also named your former spouse as the personal representative of your estate in your will. It is likely that you will want to select a new personal representative and may even move the person listed as your alternative to the primary position and name a new alternate. As always, be sure to discuss your choices with your chosen personal representative to see if he or she is willing and able to serve in this important role when the need arises.
Other important estate planning documents to update include your powers of attorney, including durable powers of attorney and your health care surrogate designation. It is common for a spouse to be named as agent in such documents. After divorce, it is likely that you will want to amend your selection. Be sure to do so that the right person is properly designated into these critical roles of responsibility.