The Impact Of Divorce On A Spouse’s Estate Plan

On behalf of Edward L. Amaral, Jr. at Amaral & Associates, P.C.

In Massachusetts, when spouses divorce, each spouse automatically is removed from the other spouse’s Will as a beneficiary. This happens by operation of law as soon as the divorce is finalized. Neither spouse has to officially change his or her Will to disinherit their former spouse.

However, just because your former spouse is automatically disinherited, does not mean you should just let your estate plan sit unchanged. There are many different parts of an estate plan. First, of course, there is the Will. This outlines how you want your property distributed after you die. It is important to update your Will after a divorce, particularly if you have children, to name new beneficiaries, and also appoint guardians if you have minor children.

Additionally, two other important estate planning documents are the Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy. The Power of Attorney grants another person the authority to conduct your own personal business (e.g. banking, filing tax returns, selling and buying property) on your behalf if you are unable to do so yourself. The Health Care Proxy give another person the authority to make medical decisions for you if you are unconscious or unable to do so yourself. Typically when someone is married, it is their spouse that acts in both capacities. Thus, it is important to update this after a divorce, as these appointments remain valid even after a divorce.

Spouses should also consider updating beneficiary designations on life insurance policies, IRA’s, 401k’s, and other investment accounts that have beneficiaries. These types of policies and investments do not pass in accordance with a person’s Will, so the beneficiary designation must be updated, if the person no longer wishes to have the designated beneficiary inherit these assets.

Going through a divorce can be stressful and emotionally and financially taxing. However, once the divorce is final, it is important to review your estate plan, and make sure it is still current with your current circumstances and your wishes.