When a divorce—also called “dissolution of marriage” —is imminent, meeting with an estate planning attorney is not likely at the top of anyone’s list of things to do. But, it very well should be. Keep in mind divorce can take a fairly long time (months or even years) to complete. It makes sense to consider what would become of your assets, or even your physical self, if you should become incapacitated or die before the divorce has been finalized.
If you do not take steps to change your estate plan in light of an impending divorce, then your soon-to-be ex may still be entitled to everything that was agreed upon when it was originally drawn up (or as the courts deem appropriate if no estate plan is in place). This means that if he or she has your medical power of attorney, all of your medical decisions will be in the hands of someone who may not have your best interests in mind. Likewise, if you are incapacitated and your spouse has power over your finances, it’s possible you will not be happy with the outcome.
Another concern comes up if you and your spouse are co-trustees on various trusts or other accounts. Again, if you become incapacitated, the spouse could access and use all kinds of property you would not want him or her to have access to. This becomes a real worry when you realize this person could actually buy or sell property or even take out loans without your consent.
And, if you have inherited or stand to inherit from your parents, another potential problem arises. Should you pass away before the divorce is final, your inheritance may legally pass directly to the person you were in the process of trying to get out of your life. Even if you have assets that would be passed directly to your minor children, without a proper estate plan in place, the courts will likely put your ex in charge of any money or other property that you leave them.
In order to protect your interests during a divorce, it makes good sense to talk with your estate planning attorney. An experienced estate planning in can offer advice on where you may be vulnerable. You may need to work with him or her quickly in order to revoke the appropriate documents, and keep in mind you might need to contact various institutions personally to ensure they are aware of the revocation.
Once a divorce has become final, there will probably be some accounts and situations in which ex-spouses are no longer beneficiaries, but there are others where you will need to make deliberate changes. An estate planning attorney who is familiar with the laws specific to Georgia is the best option for ensuring that you are protecting yourself both during and after dissolution of marriage.
Robert M. Goldberg & Associates has over 14 years specializing in estate planning and elder law with offices in Atlanta, Griffin and Peachtree City, Georgia.