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Immediate changes to your estate plan as you divorce

You should postpone certain things until after the finalization of your divorce. For example, because of the emotional strain of a divorce, you should probably not make any serious decisions until things settle down. You may want to wait before you make any large purchases. Dating is another action you should put off until you are officially divorced.

However, making changes to your estate plan is something that cannot wait until the judge signs the divorce decree. Some elements of your plan may automatically change with the signing of the orders, but leaving things as they are during the divorce proceedings can be risky.

The power you have granted

If your estate plan names your spouse as your health care proxy or power of attorney designation, it is advisable that you change those designations as soon as it becomes clear that divorce is unavoidable. These two designations typically become invalid with the signing of your divorce decree, but until that moment, your spouse retains all the rights you have assigned in your estate plan.

You may not want your POA or proxy designations to remain unchanged until the day of your court order, especially if your divorce is not going amicably. It is not unheard of for someone to fall ill, become incapacitated or pass away in the months prior to the finalization of the divorce. If this should happen to you, would you want your soon-to-be ex-spouse to handle your financial affairs or make medical decisions in your name?

Estate planning factors to change

While the laws differ in each state, a Pennsylvania attorney can advise you on the best steps to take immediately and those that can wait until after the divorce. Some common estate plan steps to take in light of an impending divorce include the following:

  • Revising your will, including beneficiaries and executor, or writing a new one altogether
  • Deciding whether to disinherit your spouse
  • Reviewing any prenuptial or postnuptial contracts and how they may affect your plan
  • Changing the trustee and terms of your trust, especially a trust that provides for the children with your spouse as the trustee

You may have listed your spouse's relatives as beneficiaries, trustees or executors in your estate plan. At this point, you may not want to keep your spouse's brother, for example, as your financial power of attorney.

Additional factors may also need your attention, such as your life insurance policy, the beneficiaries of your pension and your 401(k). You may not be able to amend these until the divorce is final, but your attorney can advise you on the best course of action.

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