Q: I am a recently divorced father of two. I have a will that leaves everything to my ex-wife that needs to be changed. What else should I do to update my estate plan?
A: Estate plans should be looked at every couple of years or when there is a major life event. A divorce is certainly one of those major life events.
Although it's a good idea to review your will after a divorce, there is a provision in the Indiana Code that removes a divorced spouse. However, even if your ex- spouse is removed from receiving anything, she may still be named as personal representative, or perhaps members of her family are included in the testamentary parts or listed as successor personal representative or guardian for your children. If you don't want to still involve the ex's family, it's a good idea to make some changes.
Also, remember that changing the will may not be enough. You should also review beneficiary designations on things like life insurance policies. Life insurance policies are contractual and they may have language that affects separation or divorce from a beneficiary. On the other hand, they might not. Over the years I've seen a handful of situations where a former partner received life insurance proceeds because a beneficiary designation was changed. That may or may not have been the intent but it's what happened.
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It's also a good idea to update the Power of Attorney and Healthcare Representative designations. When a married person has health issues, the spouse is the logical person that medical professionals look to for decisions. Single adults don't have that logical person to talk to, and it may not be entirely clear who they should consult with, or even who they can speak with under HIPAA.
It has been my experience that the POA is every bit as important as a will. This is especially true for single adults, whether divorced or never married. Don't overlook this one.
Finally, remember that whatever changes you make, you need to take the dissolution decree into consideration. Among other things, the decree can set requirements that life insurance has to be maintained or that the title of the home has to be transferred or not. After a divorce, the decree is sometimes the elephant in the estate planning room.
Regardless of what you are required or prohibited from doing, it's good that you are thinking about the plan. Too many people forget about changes to the plan or ignore it altogether. Call your attorney and sit down to discuss your situation. Even if your divorce attorney can't help, he or she can probably direct you to someone who can.