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By John R. Merlino Jr. Esq.
Founding Attorney

What will happen if I die before updating my will after my divorce?

Once you take the step to create a will, it is easy to stash your will away and forget its existence.  For many of us, life evolves and changes, and these life alterations could greatly impact your estate plan.  Perhaps no single life event will so affect your estate plan as a divorce.  Divorcing spouses should not overlook the important task of updating all estate planning documents post-divorce to avoid any confusion or unintended consequences.

Your Will After a Divorce

Divorce can complicate a previously well drafted estate plan. Per New York law, if you pass away after you have divorced your spouse, but before updating your will, any dispositions made to your ex will be deemed invalid.  Though this law seems fairly clear cut, issues can arise when you are still in the midst of a divorce and pass away without updating your estate plan.  Here, the court faces a complex task of determining whether the divorce was far enough along that it should be treated as final.

To avoid any potential issues, it is best that spouses heading towards divorce take the time to update their will and other estate planning documents as soon as possible.  You will want to make provisions in your will that expressly name your new beneficiaries and dictate your intention that your ex or soon to be ex-spouse not receive a portion of your estate.  In the event you do want your ex-spouse to still receive assets from your estate, you must also make this goal very clear because the law will presume this was not your intention.

Along with your estate plan, you will further need to update your power of attorney, retirement account beneficiaries, and life insurance beneficiary.  Your beneficiary designations will not automatically be struck down following divorce, so failure to update these documents could result in your ex receiving assets that you did not intend.  Contact an estate planning attorney to get started updating your estate plan as you head towards divorce.  Divorce is a stressful enough period, but by engaging the help of an estate planning lawyer, you can ensure that your end of life planning reflects your current relationships and last wishes.

About the Author
John is a fierce advocate and the office guru for problem-solving and brainstorming. He guides clients through every stage of a real estate transaction from offer to contract, navigating through nerve-shattering home inspection and title clearance concerns, maintaining constant contact with lenders, conducting the actual closing, and continuing to advise clients with regard to any post-closing concerns.  John brings a practical and fair-minded approach to the process which has earned him the respect of his clients and peers.