Don't forget your estate plans when filing for divorce

As difficult as it is, you're getting divorced because it's what is best for you and your family. An often overlooked step is the estate plan. Your life is changing. What did you previously include in a will or other financial documents that affects the future of your money?

Do you still want your ex to make life decisions in the emergency room or to inherit your 401(k)? During a divorce or separation, it's easy to look at where the assets are today. You're so anxious to get the process over with that you forget about the long term arrangements.


California has a law on the books to protect divorcees from gifting to their former spouses by nullifying any inheritances to them in a will, effective upon divorce or annulment. It protects against many accidental gifts, but it's still best to update the will to reflect your current life. If not, anything previously left to your spouse will be determined by family relationships as laid out in the state probate code. For any specific instructions, you'll want to write a new will entirely to make sure distributions fit your wishes.

The law is also based on when the divorce is final. A divorce will take at least 6 months (often longer) and if you pass away before it's final, your spouse is still your legal heir.


There is no automatic change of beneficiaries on your portfolios when you sign the divorce papers. Instead, any insurance policies, IRAs, 401(k), power of attorney or other estate plans where your ex-spouse was named will remain binding until you change them.

It affects your children

If an ex-spouse is kept as beneficiary this can unintentionally prevent your children from getting an inheritance. Imagine that your former spouse remarries. Your funds would go to the new family instead of your own kin.

In power of attorney decisions, it means that an ex can even have decision-making power on your medical needs. In contentious split-ups, such an unintended distribution of rights can revive old tensions and lead to potentially harmful decisions and wasted resources that could have stayed in the family.

Divorce is a settlement, an act focused on regaining control of the present and your future. It's important that as your life changes, it's reflected everywhere.

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