Skip to main content

Congratulations On Your Divorce; Time To Update Your Estate Plan

The following is a guest blog post written by our colleague Danielle G. Van Ess, Esq. of DGVE law, LLC in Hingham, MA.

You might be surprised how many of my new estate planning clients realize, after we’ve talked a little, that their ex-spouses are still named as the primary beneficiary of their life insurance policies or, more often even, their retirement accounts. And given the value of those assets, their reactions in that moment of realization are far less surprising. If you are divorcing or divorced, you need to ensure that you have changed the beneficiary of those and other pay on death type accounts.

And given that you will no longer be sharing your life with your ex-spouse, it’s likely you won’t also want him or her to be the one to speak for you in the event of your incapacity or be the one to make medical decisions for you, including whether to discontinue life support, if you are ever unable to do so yourself. So if you already had such estate planning documents in place (such as a Health Care Proxy or Living Will), now is the time to revise them. And if you have never got around to putting those critically important legal instruments in effect, there’s no time like the present.

But if you are a parent of a minor child, there is an even more important reason to sit down with your estate planning attorney immediately. You must make appropriate provisions for the care of your child in case anything happens to you. Yes, it’s awful to think about, maybe the second worst thing a parent could imagine, but it’s even worse not to address it and leave your child’s fate up to chance. It is your parental responsibility, not to mention a selfless act of love, to do everything you possibly can to ensure that your child be raised by the people of your choosing. It is not enough to choose and discuss it with people privately; it must be memorialized in the appropriate legal instruments. Godparents do not, for legal reasons, count.

While it’s true that if you were to die before your ex-spouse, he or she would be the “natural” guardian of your child and most likely to assume full custodial responsibility, it is also true that he or she might die while your child is still a minor and if yours is the only legal document nominating a guardian (i.e. if your ex-spouse did not also legally name a guardian), your wishes could provide persuasive guidance to the court. But if your ex-spouse were to die before you, the court would likely look to the guardian you legally named to raise your child. If you and your ex-spouse are able to be civil with one another and co-parent as cooperatively as possible for the distinct benefit of your child, see if you are able to agree on and both name the same legal guardians for the sake of sparing your child more uncertainty in the event that you and your ex-spouse should both happen to die at the same time or very close in time.

Those are the bare bones basics. Above and beyond that, there are some more complex considerations. For examples, if you are concerned that your ex-spouse might remarry and then divorce again losing your child’s inheritance to that subsequent ex-spouse, you might consider creating an asset protection trust to secure your child’s inheritance from that as well as other possible (and not at all unusual) possibilities. If you and your ex-spouse have an irrevocable charitable trust, it may be possible to divide it. Or if you and your ex-spouse have established a pattern of gifting that you do not wish to continue, you should be careful to make your change of intentions clear.

Don’t feel overwhelmed. Your estate planning attorney should be able to meet with you and help you identify your most pressing concerns, your most important priorities, and based on that properly advise you and help you create a new plan to meet your new situation so you can move forward into the next chapter of your life with peace of mind knowing you have your legal affairs firmly in place.


Popular posts from this blog

New Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines (2021): Big Changes, Little Changes, Typos & some Unexpected Results

UPDATE: The court has released a web calculating version of the 2021 MA Child Support Guidelines Worksheet .  It resolves some of the typos referred to below, but the unexpected calculations still apply. Every four years, per federal mandate, the Massachusetts Probate & Family Court revisits the Child Support Guidelines through the work of a Task Force appointed by the Chief Justice.  The 2021 Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines were recently posted.  They take effect on October 4, 2021.    If you are interested in a training on all of these changes to the new Child Support Guidelines: DMTA Presents the 2021 MA Child Support Guidelines Update  – Attend this event to learn the key updates you need to know for your mediation clients. Presented by Justin Kelsey of  Divorce Mediation Training Associates  and  Skylark Law & Mediation, PC . For a full comparison of all the  tracked changes between the 2018 and 2021 Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines you can download a pdf sho

What is the purpose of the Divorce Nisi waiting period?

In Massachusetts the statutory waiting period after a Judgment of Divorce and before the divorce becomes final (or absolute) is called the Nisi period. After a divorce case settles or goes to trial, a Judgment of Divorce Nisi will issue and it will become Absolute after a further ninety (90) days. This waiting period serves the purpose of allowing parties to change their mind before the divorce becomes final. If the Judgment of Divorce Nisi has issued but not become final yet, and you and your spouse decide you don't want to get divorced, then you can file a Motion to Dismiss and the Judgment will be undone. Although many of my clients who are getting divorced think the idea of getting back together with their ex sounds crazy, I have had cases where this happened. In addition to offering a grace period to change your mind, the Nisi period has three other legal effects: 1. The most obvious effect of the waiting period is that you cannot remarry during the Nisi period, be

Online Tool for Creating Parenting Plans

It is our hope that all families find a way to resolve conflict peacefully.  This is especially true when children are involved.  Divorced or separated parenting has many complications and the first is just deciding how to share time with a child from two separate households.  Developing a schedule can result in a lot of tension, especially if parents have trouble picturing how this new schedule will interact with their work schedules and the schedules of their children. To help make this easier, we've created an online tool for creating parenting plans that is simple and easy to use: We encourage parents, regardless of the process they are using to divorce, to use this form to assist in evaluating and settling custody disputes. The form allows you to choose between the Model Parenting Plan proposals or customize your parenting plan over a four week period by clicking directly on the form.  When you click on a section of the calendar it switches between Mom and Dad, an