On your wedding day, everything seems like a dream. You have planned for it. You imagine the life you'll build with your new spouse. You are filled with hope and expectation. Perhaps you even imagine growing old together and celebrating your golden anniversary surrounded by your children and grandchildren.
However, nearly half of American marriages today are likely to end in divorce.
In fact, only 5 percent of couples will ever make it to celebrate that golden, 50th anniversary together. If you aren't one of the lucky ones, after your divorce you are left with picking up the pieces of your life.
Emotionally, that may be a long, difficult path. But, the legal steps to take are somewhat straightforward.
The divorce divides up property rights and custody of any children. But, there's much more to take care of.
Your estate planning documents need to be re-done in light of your new circumstances. It's likely your spouse was named as agent under your powers of attorney, giving your spouse the authority to make decisions for you when you were unable to make them for yourself.
Now that you are divorced, in many states, your now ex-spouse would still have that authority. Few of us would want our ex-spouse to have the authority to make medical or financial decisions affecting our lives.
Similarly, when you were married, you probably named your spouse as the beneficiary for life insurance and retirement plans. Even if the beneficiary designation in favor of your now ex-spouse is revoked automatically, you will still need to designate whom you want as your new beneficiary.
Few people consider that they have named their spouse in trusted roles in their lives: Trustee, Executor, Guardian, etc.
You will want to re-consider each of these decisions in light of the new circumstances. While you may still want your ex-spouse to continue in some roles, such as Trustee for a trust for your joint children, you may not want them to continue in other roles.
At a minimum, you should review each document and consider whether the estate planning decisions you made when you were happily married still reflect your sentiments.
Divorce can be a painful process in many ways. A qualified estate-planning attorney can help you move forward and plan for your new future.
Robert J. Kulas is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been engaged in the practice of law in Florida for the last 23 years. For more information or to attend an upcoming seminar, call 398-0720.