Beneficiary designations, powers of attorney, and wills all need to be updated and revised after a divorce.  We often meet with new clients who have been married for years, and as we discuss their estate it becomes apparent that nothing was ever done to remove an ex-spouse from a life insurance policy, retirement account or other asset.  Once, a former spouse was still the co-owner of the house the client and new spouse were living in!  In some instances, the law will intervene to treat a former spouse named as a beneficiary as having “predeceased” you, but that is not always the case.  Even if the law favors the current spouse, failing to update your estate plan creates a mess for a current spouse to deal with and can create clouds on title to property and other problems.  I have yet to meet a client who would intentionally allow an ex-husband or ex-wife to benefit financially from the client’s death rather than a new spouse, children or even a charity.  Below is a list of common assets that get overlooked after a final divorce decree is signed (i.e. “loose ends” that are never tied up):

  1. Beneficiary designations on life insurance policies
  2. Beneficiary designations on retirement accounts (IRA, 401(K), etc)
  3. Payable on Death or Transferrable on Death designations on bank accounts and investment accounts (meaning this account transfers immediately upon death to the person named)
  4. Title to real estate — did you execute a new deed for property you received or that your former spouse was to receive pursuant to a divorce decree?
  5. Title to vehicles
  6. Owners and signers of safety deposit boxes
  7. Beneficiary and Executor designations under a Last Will and Testament
  8. Trustee and Beneficiary designations under Trust agreement
  9. Agent designations under a Statutory Durable Power of Attorney (financial power of attorney) or Medical Power of Attorney

If you or your current spouse have ever been through a divorce, take the time to look at each of your assets to make sure nothing is co-owned with a former spouse and to make sure a former spouse is not unintentionally named as a beneficiary or co-signer.  If you intend to name minors as a beneficiary, consult your estate planning attorney about the best way to do this.