Going through a divorce is a painful process that can drain you emotionally as well as financially. One of the last things you want to think about during this process is spending more time, effort and money to update your estate plan (if you had one to begin with). However, failure to update your estate plan after a divorce can have disastrous consequences. As a Houston estate planning and probate lawyer, I see this all too often.
A good example of how things can go wrong is a recent court case in New York. The family of Robyn Lewis, who died five years ago at the age of 43, is fighting with her former in-laws, who may inherit a $200,000 home in Clayton, New York even though she and her husband divorced in 2007. Lewis named her husband as the beneficiary to receive her property after her death. She named her father-in-law as the secondary beneficiary. When Lewis and her husband divorced, the gifts to her now ex-husband were automatically revoked under New York Law (note: the same result would occur under Texas law). However, the law did not apply to Lewis’ father-in-law, who presented the will for probate and is claiming that he should receive Lewis’ property. Members of Lewis’ family claim that she executed a new will naming new beneficiaries, but no one seems to be able to locate the will.
The real lesson here is to make sure you stay up to date with your estate plan and make sure that all your beneficiary designations are up to date on things like your will, powers of attorney, life insurance policies, and retirement plans. Additionally, you need to make sure your loved ones know where your documents are located. For more information on this topic, click here. If you ever divorce, it is critical that you immediately update any beneficiary designations to ensure that your property goes to someone other than your ex-spouse. On the other hand, if you still wish to leave something to your ex, then you should alter the beneficiary designations after your divorce is final, naming him or her as a beneficiary. This is because Texas state law automatically revokes certain beneficiary designations in the event of divorce, but a beneficiary designation made in favor of an ex-spouse following a divorce should be valid.
You should speak to a Houston estate planning attorney about how to update your estate plan following a divorce.
See MarketWatch (The Wall Street Journal) (February 23, 2015) “Just divorced? Don’t forget to separate your estate plans”