Over the course of a marriage, there are often legal documents the spouses sign naming each other for some reason. When spouses get a divorce, they need to update this paperwork or risk giving the ex-spouse legal rights or imposing legal obligations on him/her. If you recently divorced, these are the most common documents that should be revised or reexecuted:
- Wills and trusts
- Beneficiary designations for life insurance policies and bank, investment and retirement accounts
- Deeds and titles to property
- Loan documents (e.g., mortgages, lines of credit or other financing that may have been procured jointly)
- Power of attorney
- Health care proxy; privacy policies and in case of emergency contacts filed with your doctors
- Car insurance
- Health insurance
- Homeowners insurance
- Joint credit cards
In addition, if you are changing your name or address, you will need to notify a long list of other parties, including employers, post office, IRS, DMV, children’s schools, etc.
Generally, the fact that the parties divorced does not take precedence over the terms of the documents. Accordingly, if you don’t update these items, your ex-spouse could gain control over your assets if you die or become disabled. You can also be on the hook for your ex-spouse’s debts if your name remains on financial accounts.
Some documents can be changed easily online. Others require you to request and fill out additional forms. Make sure to verify that changes were actually made by the institution. A recent CNBC story noted that financial institutions can and do make mistakes. If your ex-spouse is responsible for updating documents, get confirmation that it was done.
Certain documents should be handled by an attorney because there are specific legal requirements that must be met in order to amend them. Going through a divorce is also a good time to revisit all of your decisions regarding distribution of your estate, guardians, trustees, planning for disability, etc. Your settlement agreement also may require you or your spouse to make certain changes.
If you have divorced, contact me for a consultation about your estate plan.