It’s that time of year when most of us to think about the year that was and make resolutions for the new year ahead (all the while fighting hangovers, indigestion, and thoughts of how to spend less time with our extended relatives next year). This December however we find our deep introspection interrupted by what appears to be an unusually high volume of high profile separations and divorces (and not just because we avidly follow celebrity gossip sites). Clint I’ll-Be-In-The-Business-Forever Eastwood just finalized his divorce to his wife of 18 years (http://huff.to/1B1YnTi ). The We-Wish-We-Could-Look-Away Kardashians saw the end of the marriage of ‘Momager’ Kris from Bruce I-Can’t-Believe-I-Used-To-Be-An-Olympic-Gold-Medalist Jenner (http://fw.to/29FYFFN ). And this just in: The multi-talented comedian/actor/director Chris Rock is divorcing from his wife of 20 years. (http://www.people.com/article/chris-rock-divorce) No funny comments there. We’re big fans.
While divorce is not the foregone conclusion of almost every wedding (according to the NY Times: http://nyti.ms/1yR17Uq ), it is still a very common occurrence. Going through a divorce is emotionally, physically, and financially difficult. But what happens when you come out the other side? Before you throw yourself a splashy, boozy, ‘I’m a single lady’ party, you should consider updating your estate plan.
Many couples with an estate plan had their estate plans created when they were married. After a divorce, each ex-spouse needs their own individual estate plan. Assets covered by trusts will be different as may be preferences for powers of attorney for financial and medical matters. If minor children are involved, we highly recommend some sort of agreement between parents as to the preferred guardian for the children. This helps to avoid the dreaded (cue the ominous music) probate litigation.
It’s important to update your estate plan as soon your divorce judgment is final. Once you are officially single, many of the spousal exemptions, shortcuts and other allowances that could have been used in the past to help transfer the estate of one spouse to the other no longer apply. And yet again, your heirs and beneficiaries face the daunting prospect of slogging through probate. Believe us when we tell you this is neither a swift nor simple process.
So while you are wrapping up your 2014, your divorce, and your impossible search for affordable housing, consider giving some thought for the new year, the new resolutions, and your new estate plan. Because even though you may be tempted to read the top ten/top twenty/top one hundred “best of” lists well into 2015, the number one thing you can do for your peace of mind and for your heirs is to make sure your estate plan reflects the goals and values of the fabulous new you.