Nobody plans to break up.
When a couple marries, they dream of their lives together and the special times which they will share. They think of the shared holidays and the family which will grow from their love. Their lives become intertwined emotionally, financially and legally.
But, as often attributed to John Steinbeck, and as adapted from Robert Burns' "To a Mouse," "even the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry."
When the arguing becomes too frequent, the emotional bond between them can weaken. Eventually, some couples choose to walk away and divorce.
A divorce severs the legal rights and responsibilities between the couple. A divorce is a necessary step to move forward. As the past ends, the future must begin. But in order to completely untangle the legal and financial web between the couple, a divorce is not always enough.
Oftentimes, people do not consider all of the steps necessary to update the estate plan, which they built with their now-ex-spouse. Each spouse needs to create his or her own plans to move forward.
If you are going through a divorce, here is a helpful 10-point estate planning checklist:
. Revoke joint trusts. Assets kept in joint trusts perpetuate the legal entanglement of the couple. Amend or "restate" other documents such as a will or separate trust.
. Change life insurance beneficiary designations. While state law may revoke the designation of the ex-spouse as beneficiary, re-examining who the contingent beneficiary is, if any, is recommended.
. Change retirement plan beneficiary designations. Make sure your hard-earned assets go to those you want and not to an ex-spouse.
. Change any financial powers of attorney. Most states automatically invalidate the ex-spouse as the agent under a financial power of attorney. However, as with beneficiary designations, the desired successor may not have been named. For example, a friend or family member of the ex-spouse might have been named to serve after the ex-spouse.
. Change any medical power of attorney for the same reasons.
. A Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act authorization form gives designated people access to protected health information, such as medical records. Be sure an ex-spouse does not have continuing access to private information.
. Authorized signer. Be sure that an ex-spouse is removed as an authorized signer on any and all financial accounts, including credit cards.
. Change all PIN numbers on ATM cards.
. Change passwords on e-mail and other accounts.
. Most importantly, consult with a qualified estate planning attorney to develop a new individual estate plan for you.
Divorce can be scary. Just when a person is at their most vulnerable, they have so many new things to think about. A qualified estate- planning attorney can help move forward constructively toward a 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 25 years. For more information or to attend an upcoming seminar, call (772) 398-0720.