VanNess & VanNess, P.A.

How divorce may change an estate plan

Florida residents who are getting a divorce might want to ensure that they make any necessary changes to their estate plans. One couple had come to an agreement about keeping their individual retirement plans and splitting the excess. However, because they did not complete the paperwork, when the man died on his honeymoon with his second wife, new orders had to be prepared.

In another case, a man who had placed money in a trust with 80 percent for his wife and 20 percent for his family did not amend the trust after his wife filed for divorce. The condition for his wife inheriting around $14.4 million of the money he had received in settlement was that they still be married. The man died two days before the divorce decree was final. By Arizona law, they were still considered officially married, and the man's family only received $3.6 million while his wife got the rest.

In the first case, an order only needed to be signed and filed. In the second, the man only needed to inform his attorney and sign an amendment. After estate taxes, his family would have received approximately $10.8 million.

A person going through a divorce who is concerned about the estate plan may want to talk to an attorney about what changes to the plan are legal and which ones need to wait until after the divorce is final. One type of document that a person should be aware of is the beneficiary designation. This is a form that may be filled out when a person first opens a retirement account or purchases a life insurance policy and names a beneficiary for that account. It overrides instructions in a will or a trust, but it can be easy to overlook as part of estate planning.

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