Estate Planning After Divorce


A good estate plan should be flexible and structured to account for foreseeable life events. However, even the best estate plan cannot accommodate every turn your life may take. Periodic review and tweaking of an estate plan is always advisable. In addition, certain life events may necessitate a comprehensive overhaul to prevent confusion and ensure your wishes for your property are respected. The end of a marriage is one such life event. 

Under the California Probate Code, the divorce or annulment of a marriage automatically invalidates any bequests to the former spouse made in a will executed prior to the dissolution. However, this, in no way, means that you can simply continue with your current estate plan — especially if your estate is large and complex. A comprehensive review is still advisable for several reasons, such as: 

  • Failing to execute a new will can create confusion and may even cause some of your bequests to lapse, resulting in their distribution according to California intestacy law, rather than your wishes. 
  • A divorce settlement often causes a substantial change in the nature and amount of your assets. As the character of your property changes, so too should your estate planning goals and strategies. 
  • Significant portions of your property may be non-probate in nature — property that transfers outside of the probate process and is not governed by the terms of your will. In some cases, failing to properly retitle jointly held property or redesignate beneficiaries on certain accounts can result in your ex-spouse receiving a portion of your property. While these issues are usually resolved during the divorce process, it can be easy for some accounts to be overlooked, making a second look advisable. 

As your life changes, so too must your estate plan.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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