When you file divorce papers in Washington State, you likely expect it to make a huge impact on your life. It takes a toll on the finances and your children—but did you also know that it can affect your estate planning?
Here, we will explain the basics behind how getting a divorce in the Tri-Cities affects your estate plan so that you know what actions to take next.
How Divorce Can Affect Estate Planning
Once you begin the divorce process, you might assume your former partner will no longer be on your estate plan. This is partially true in many parts of the plan—but only after the divorce is final, unless you have a separation agreement filed that states otherwise. Divorce does indeed affect your estate planning.
Here are some things you should know:
Divorce does not automatically change your estate plan.
There is a 90-day waiting period after applying for divorce in Washington State. In many cases, such as if the divorce is contested, and you have various assets, the process can take much longer.
If you intend to remove your ex from your estate plan, there certain instances where you must wait until the divorce is complete to do so (i.e., three months on the low end). Since your estate plan covers what you would like to happen to your assets if you pass, it is best to create a new estate plan that updates your wishes to avoid the wrong person being in control of your assets.
Often, divorcees have their in-laws on their estate plans. If you are no longer on great terms during the divorce, you may want to amend your estate planning documents. This does not occur automatically in Washington State.
Powers of Attorney and Advance Directives
Under Washington law, power of attorney granted to your ex are automatically revoked as soon as you file for divorce. The court recognizes that you might wish for another trusted family member to speak on your behalf if you need a power of attorney at any point, considering your marriage was at its end.
Therefore, you will want to work with a lawyer to name a new power of attorney if you so choose. This person will be responsible for your assets, including your finances, if you are ever in a place where you are unfit or not of a sound mind to make decisions.
Advance directives are another component of your estate plan that are best to update once you begin the divorce process. That ensures that someone you trust (besides your ex) can make medical decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated at any point.
Usually, this individual is a family member or close friend who knows your wishes and will respect them. Keep in mind that you may keep your ex on the advance directive if you wish. However, this must be in writing and filed.
It is common for spouses to list one another as a beneficiary in a will. If your will includes your spouse, you can, and should, create a new will that excludes them while the divorce is pending. However, if something happens to you in the meantime, your spouse may still be able to make a claim to the assets outlined in your will. However, once your divorce is final, all provisions in your will in favor of your ex are revoked immediately.
So, what can you do to protect your assets while the divorce is pending? You can work with an estate planning attorney to create a separation agreement, in which your ex may voluntarily waive their right to your assets. (Get in touch with an attorney here for any questions about wills and estate planning.)
A trust is a corporate entity that can own property separate and distinct from the trustee, or the person who manages it. Often, it includes family inheritances and details on how much money will be dispersed to your children over their lifetime (including at what ages) to ensure they are cared for financially even if you are not in the picture.
Unlike a will, your spouse may stay on your trust even after the divorce proceedings. You will need to talk to an estate planning lawyer for guidance and update the trust promptly after the divorce is final to ensure your beneficiary is who you want it to be.
Retirement, Life Insurance, etc.
While you are in the middle of the divorce proceedings, it is unlikely that you can make changes to your retirement and life insurance beneficiaries. In Washington State, your ex shall be taken off as the beneficiary once the divorce is official for most retirement accounts (including Roth IRAs). You will have to request this yourself on your 401(k) if you have one.
The main reasoning behind this is that these accounts are often considered assets. Changing the beneficiary before the divorce is over can prevent your spouse from getting the money they are owed, in some cases. Remember that you can talk to an attorney at any time with questions and for clarification on your unique case.
Estate planning cases are not one size fits all. Every couple is different—with different assets, accounts, and expectations. The best thing to do is meet with an attorney to find out your options regarding your retirement plan, life insurance, and other accounts.
Signing your name on the dotted line of your divorce papers does not guarantee the removal of your spouse from your estate plan. It might cover the power of attorney, but it will not affect the will, trust, or other components of your estate.
Your estate planning checklist should include removing your spouse from documents as needed. To learn more about how to handle estate plans after getting a divorce, it is important to talk to an attorney.
Estate planning attorneys offer valuable insight that can answer many of your questions during this confusing chapter of your life.
Looking for a qualified estate planning lawyer in the Pasco, Richland, and Kennewick area? Clearwater Law Group has an experienced team of attorneys right here in the Tri-Cities. Contact us now to meet with one of our local attorneys.