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Till Death: Planning for Death After Divorce

Written by Bruce Feinstein, Esq. on . Posted in Divorce Blog

Death and Divorce

Important financial arrangements spouses should update after a divorce.

When a couple files for divorce, a great deal of consideration can be devoted to topics like dividing up assets and establishing child custody. These are very important things to consider as they affect each spouse’s lives and those of their families. But what about plans that were made long ago to go into effect when one spouse dies? A recent court case on this topic encouraged our office to shed more light on the subject of dealing with end of life issues and divorce.

A recent Wall Street Journal article describes a court case in New York in which the family a one deceased woman is fighting against her former in-laws over ownership of the woman’s $200,000 home. She and her husband divorced in 2007, but she executed a will in 1996 that gave her then-husband all of her property upon her death. It also named her then father-in-law as the second beneficiary.

In the state of New York, the divorce decision automatically removes the former spouse from the woman’s will, but it does not cut out the second beneficiary.

So in 2014, the article states that “the New York Fourth Department Appellate Division decided in a 4-1 ruling to uphold the 1996 will.” The woman’s family is continuing to fight the verdict in the New York Court of Appeals. But the case remains that individuals need to update their financial arrangements and communicate any changes to that go into effect after death to the proper outlets.

Couples who go through a divorce in New York should update their estate plans as part of the general divorce process. These include executing a new will with up-to-date beneficiary information and making sure it is shared with the right people, such as family members or a lawyer. It’d also smart to update a person’s power of attorney and his or her health care proxy. A power of attorney gives legal authority to one person, while a health care proxy “can make health care decisions for you if you lose the ability to make decisions yourself,” according to the New York Department of Health.

It may be helpful to work with new estate and financial planners to go over any specific questions regarding updated end of life legal decisions. This removes any possible conflicts of interest if the couple shared a planner in the past. Even if they never used one, couples can find themselves confused by the multiple categories and stipulations that can arise. For instance, a person can be designated a “durable” power of attorney, which means they hold that role until the principal revokes it or dies. Or they can act as a “springing” power of attorney, whose role occurs during a designated time like severe illness.

Another update to consider after divorcing in New York is a new appointment of agent. This person takes responsibility for a person’s remains after death. In order to update these kinds of designations, people can work with their attorney to fill out new forms that name new people and revoke the stipulations of the old forms.

This update process may involve some extra steps when it comes to financial beneficiaries. Some beneficiary designations, like those for insurance policies and brokerage accounts, can be updated to change the transfer of ownership upon death. But other cases, the accounts go to the named person no matter what an updated will says. It is very important to go over all financial accounts and investments like 401ks to see what steps must happen to determine a new beneficiary. A company may require proof of the divorce before updating the accounts. Or you may need to obtain a court order that gives you the right to part of a 401k or retirement plan as determined during your divorce settlement.

The most important rules to remember here are to keep a record of your end of life plans and designations so you don’t forget any documents, and to get confirmation of any changes made after a divorce.

If you are looking for an experienced divorce attorney in Queens, Contact the Law Offices of Bruce Feinstein, Esq. today for a Free Consultation.

(718) 475-6039

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