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How Divorce Impacts Estate Planning

Posted on Thu Dec 7, 2023, on Estate Planning

How Divorce Impacts Estate Planning

Divorce can be difficult emotionally and financially. One important task to remember during a divorce is ensuring your estate plans are tailored to your new situation. As you consider and plan for your new post-separation life circumstances, do not overlook the future and the inevitable consequences of your estate planning decisions. How Divorce Impacts Estate Planning; it means its time for changes.

Unless you have a prenuptial agreement, your pre-divorce estate plan probably includes provisions for your spouse as a beneficiary or even as an executor. Accordingly, it is necessary to remove your spouse from these vital documents during and after the divorce for numerous reasons. You must consult with and retain an experienced Philadelphia estate planning attorney to ensure that changes are made at the right time, are done legally, and accurately reflect your wishes. It is often a complicated process and certainly requires expert legal guidance.

Updating Essential Estate Planning Documents Post-Divorce

Following a divorce, revisiting and revising key estate planning documents to reflect your new situation is vital. Failure to make these changes can lead to unintended consequences, such as your ex-spouse receiving assets or having a say in your health care decisions.

Healthcare Power of Attorney

An extremely important aspect to address is updating your healthcare power of attorney or healthcare directive as soon as possible. This document grants your spouse or another person the authority to make important medical decisions on your behalf. To ensure that your wishes are carried out, you must update this document as soon as the separation or divorce process is initiated if you wish to name a new person as your agent.

Updating Your Last Will and Testament

When updating your will in Pennsylvania after a divorce to remove your former spouse as a beneficiary, there are several important steps to consider. It is imperative to consult with an experienced Philadelphia area estate planning attorney to ensure compliance with Pennsylvania laws. Below are some general recommendations for updating your estate plan:

  • Drafting a new will: It is usually advisable to create an entirely new one rather than attempt to change your existing one. This helps ensure clarity and avoids any confusion. Your new will should clearly state that the new will revokes all prior wills and testamentary documents. This is essential because you cannot simply disinherit your spouse. In Pennsylvania, the law treats a divorced spouse as if they had predeceased you. This means your spouse is generally no longer entitled to inherit under your will. However, reviewing and revising your estate plan to ensure cohesiveness and avoid potential future disputes or ambiguity is essential.
  • Reviewing beneficiary designations: Besides updating your will, review and update beneficiary designations on assets and insurance policies such as life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and bank accounts. This will ensure that your former spouse is not still listed as a beneficiary on any of these documents.
  • Revising alternate beneficiaries: Revising your alternate beneficiaries will determine who will inherit your assets and benefit from any insurance policies instead of your former spouse. You may wish to consider other family members, friends, or charitable organizations as possible beneficiaries.
  • Updating guardianship provisions: If you have any minor children, you should consider revising your last will and testament to designate an alternate guardian for your children if your former spouse is unable or unwilling to take guardianship of them.

You must know that Pennsylvania has explicit laws about spousal rights and elective shares of one’s estate. You may disinherit a former spouse.  But, disinheriting someone has legal ramifications. Further, it could cause future conflicts and litigation—Disinherit only with the advice of your estate planning attorney.

The Impact of Prenuptial Agreements

Suppose you have a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement between you and your spouse. In that case, the family law attorney who is handling your divorce should have already reviewed it with you and explained its implications in your divorce. Any changes to your estate plan must align with the terms of the prenuptial agreement. Clearly understand your spouse’s rights.  What may your spouse demand should you die? What changes are necessary?  Make necessary changes, working with your estate planning lawyer.

Review all choices once the divorce is finalized. You may need updates and additional changes. Pay close attention to all beneficiary designations.  This step is often overlooked.  If you fail to update these designations, it could result in your former spouse receiving benefits that you did not intend.  Why not have your things pass they way you intend?

Act Now to Protect Your Future

During a divorce, seeking the right counsel is of utmost importance. Hiring a trusted and experienced divorce attorney ensures that your case is handled properly. Divorce is difficult, but having an experienced Philadelphia divorce attorney by your side can provide priceless guidance and support throughout the process. They will help you navigate the complexities of your divorce.  Further, they address the need to update your estate plan and help ensure your wishes are properly and accurately reflected in your documents.


Divorce, Estate Planning, Estate Planning Lawyer

Peter KlenkPeter Klenk

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