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Estate plan changes that can't wait until after the divorce

When you and your spouse decided to divorce, you may have felt overwhelmed with the decisions you had to make. Your first concern may have been for your children's well-being, but you also wanted to be sure your finances were in reasonably good shape for your post-divorce life. You may have had to find new living arrangements and determine how you would divide the furniture and other assets.

There may be one more thing you are overlooking. If you have not addressed your estate plan in light of the changes in your marital status, you may be leaving some very important work undone. Your estate plan may no longer express your wishes, and it may be a matter of urgency to modify those documents.

Don't wait until the divorce is final

Is your spouse the executor of your estate? Did you name your spouse as your power of attorney or health care proxy? Is your spouse set to inherit your assets upon your death? In some cases, the spouse automatically loses some rights to your estate when a divorce becomes final. However, what happens if you should die or become incapacitated in the weeks or months before the divorce is final? It happens more often than you think.

Until your divorce decree has a judge's signature, you and your spouse are legally married. This means your spouse retains the legal privileges and responsibilities you assigned to him or her through your estate plan. If you have not changed your estate plan, your estranged spouse may have the legal right to make medical decisions on your behalf and inherit the spouse's portion of your assets. If this thought makes you uneasy, you may not wish to wait until after the divorce to speak with an attorney about these matters:

  • Changing the beneficiaries on your insurance policies
  • Changing the beneficiaries on any annuities, investments or other financial accounts
  • Modifying any trust documents that name your spouse
  • Removing your spouse as the trustee from your trust
  • Finding a new health care proxy to replace your spouse
  • Reviewing your medical directives to ensure they comply with your wishes
  • Designating a new power of attorney or guardian to replace your spouse

If your divorce is amicable, you may not want to completely exclude your spouse from your estate plan, but you will want to be careful about how you include him or her in case you should remarry. Your Illinois attorney can guide you in modifying your estate plan so that it reflects your wishes and meets your goals.

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