Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Effects of Divorce on Estate Planning

     Divorce is frequently a difficult and painful experience for the parties involved. By the time the proceedings are complete, most people want to go their separate ways and interact with their former spouse as little as possible. Unfortunately, as with other major life events, divorce is also a time where it is important to review and update an existing estate plan.
Under Michigan law, divorce has a substantial effect on existing estate plan documents, including:
  • automatic revocation of any potential disposition of property made by a divorced individual to his or her former spouse as a beneficiary under a Will or Trust;
  • automatic revocation of provisions conferring powers of appointment on the divorced individual’s former spouse so that the former spouse can no longer appoint beneficiaries under a Will or Trust; and
  • revocation of any nominations of the divorced individual’s former spouse to serve in a fiduciary or representative capacity rendering the former spouse unable to act as Personal Representative or Trustee even though named in the document.

     Additionally, divorce severs interests of a former spouse in property held at the time of divorce as joint tenants with rights of survivorship, and it is important to retitle real estate following a divorce. While all of these changes result in a change in the distribution of assets via estate plan documents, they do not negate the documents themselves, therefore the documents continue to function and successor beneficiaries, including minors, may become the primary beneficiaries because of the divorce. If there are no successor beneficiaries, then the Intestacy Statute dictates distribution of those assets.
       Presuming that successor beneficiaries are named, the change in beneficiary is important because in many documents there is a presumption that should something happen to the Grantor their now former spouse will receive such distributions and the terms of the trust did not adequately provide for direct distribution to minor children. Further, even when there is adequate provisions for maintain assets in trust for minors, it is important to ensure that the trustee named to administer that trust is a person the Grantor believes will look out for the best interests of any children and ensure funds are available for their long-term care. It is worth mentioning that a decree of divorce may contain provisions requiring the inclusion of certain provisions in an estate plan, including the purchase of life insurance to cover alimony or child support payments should something happen to the Grantor. Failure to comply with such requirements can have adverse consequences.
     While a review of the terms of the Trust, the beneficiaries, and the successor trustees is important, it is just as it is important to ensure those individuals who are designated to make decisions upon incapacity are also the people the Grantor now wants to make decisions on their behalf. Many people execute Patient Advocate Designations and Durable Powers of Attorney naming their spouses as the sole designee to make decisions on their behalf. Following a divorce those documents are revoked and the grantor is left without a designate to make medical decisions. Even if those documents name other successor designee, it is important to ensure that those individuals are still the best people to be making decisions should the Grantor become incapacitated. Frequently successor designee's are close friends of the couple, who may not continue to be actively involved in their separate lives following a divorce.
      As a side note, it is important to remember that in addition to revoking all the above interests held by former spouses, divorce also revokes interests held by former spouse’s relatives. Thus if after a divorce an individual wishes to continue to leave assets to a relative of the former spouse or name their former spouse’s relatives as a designee, it is necessary to execute new documents reaffirming that desire. While this may seem like an unlikely scenario, is important to remember how many people meet their spouse through a friendship with siblings, grow close to extended family during the course of a marriage, or feel that a former spouse’s sibling or parent is still a good trustee for minor children.
      Also related to updating estate plan documents, is the importance of updating beneficiary designations of assets that transfer outside of the probate process. This includes such assets as insurance policy proceeds and retirement benefits. Updating beneficiary designations are important because these beneficiary designations are a contractual agreement between parties, and divorce does not negate such designations. It is possible for a former spouse to receive large amounts of assets that the deceased certainly would rather have distributed to the beneficiaries of their newly updated estate plan.
      With all of the changes following the dissolution of the marriage, the updating of an estate plan can easily get lost in the shuffle. However due to the substantial impact that a divorce has upon an estate plan, it is important to take the time to review documents for necessary changes. When contemplating making changes be sure to consult an attorney to ensure that changes are made properly.


  1. Your method of explaining the whole thing in this post is in fact pleasant, every one be capable of effortlessly be aware of it, Thanks a lot.

    1. Thanks for checking us out. You might also want to take a look at our post on estate planning following a remarriage.


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