If you’re considering or about to begin the process of divorce, you’re likely not thinking about estate planning. Nonetheless, divorce is one of those life events that warrants some changes to any existing plans you may have.
Some changes can be made at any time, while others may need to wait until after the divorce decree is signed. Since everyone’s estate plan looks different, we can’t give one-size-fits-all recommendations here. However, let’s take a brief look at the changes you’ll likely need or want to make.
Powers of attorney (POA)
If you have POA documents in your estate plan giving your spouse the right to make health care and/or financial decisions for you if you’re unable to speak for yourself, you can change those at any time. If they have POA over your health care, they’re likely listed as your health care agent (or proxy) as well. You’ll want to change that if you no longer want them to have this authority.
Your spouse’s inheritance
Since Washington is a community property state, both spouses are is entitled to an inheritance if the other passes away as long as you’re married (unless you stipulated otherwise in a prenuptial agreement). Therefore, if you choose to remove your spouse from your will or living trust, that won’t be effective until the divorce is final.
People often don’t realize that the beneficiary designations they’ve listed on various accounts are part of their estate plans. Further, the beneficiaries listed with the banks or other institutions that hold the accounts take precedence over any reference you make to them in your estate planning documents. Therefore, you’ll likely need to make some changes to those designations on accounts and insurance policies when the divorce is final.
It’s crucial that you don’t make any changes to your estate plan that conflict with any of your divorce agreements and related court orders. That’s one reason why it’s wise to get estate planning legal guidance during your divorce rather than waiting until it’s final.