There are a lot of moving pieces in a divorce case – the house, the personal property, the retirement accounts, child support, spousal support, custody and visitation – so many, in fact, that an estate plan is one of the pieces of the puzzle that tend to be overlooked.
A lot of women think that, once the ink is dry on the divorce decree, the work is done. And, from a divorce attorney’s perspective, it is. But we’re not just in the business of getting our clients divorced; it’s our goal to educate and empower women about their rights and entitlements under Virginia law.
A lot of that relates back to the divorce, but some of it comes later, after setting up a comprehensive estate plan designed to reflect the changed circumstances involved after the divorce.
It’s easy to think that, while you’re young and reasonably healthy, there’s no reason to take care of your estate, name beneficiaries, update your assets, change beneficiaries, or make a plan – but that’s just not the case. Accidents happen. It’s awful to say, but the only thing worse than planning for something horrific is having it happen without a plan in place.
I’m not an estate planning attorney. Reading this article definitely is no substitute for talking to a licensed Virginia estate planning attorney. I just want to make you aware of a few things so that you feel empowered to take the legal steps necessary to ensure that, post divorce, your assets are protected.
Divorced Virginia Women Need Estate Planning Help, Too!
A couple things you should plan to create – or update – after your divorce:
1. After your divorce, you should update ALL of your beneficiary designations!
What good does it do to have a separation agreement that says one thing and beneficiary designations that say something else? The LAST thing you want to do is to have something awarded to you in the divorce, only to turn around and leave it to your husband anyway. Different assets and different types of accounts have different rules attached, so it’s hard for me to tell you “one size fits all” rules; I will tell you, though, that it is in your best interests to update ALL of your beneficiary designations to ensure that they reflect your wishes.
It’s easiest, and less likely to result in litigation, if your separation agreement and your beneficiary designations reflect the same reality. Whether you want to update your kids as beneficiaries, or name someone else as a beneficiary, you really should take steps to ensure that these things are updated as soon as possible after your divorce, even if you’re in perfectly good health.
2. Update any power of attorney documents.
If you don’t have a power of attorney, you probably should. If you have an old one where you gave your husband power of attorney, you’ll want to revoke it and execute a new one, giving someone else power of attorney.
Be sure to indicate exactly what powers you’d give this person, too. There are general powers of attorney and specific ones, so it’s worth considering what you’d want to or need to include. This is especially important if you are an active duty military service woman.
3. Update your medical directive.
Who should make decisions about your medical care if you’re incapacitated? You really should consider this. If you’re perfectly healthy, it may seem like a total long shot, but still – better safe than sorry.
Remember Terri Schiavo? She died at just 41 years of age, after FIFTEEN YEARS in a vegetative state, as a battle warred between her parents and her husband. That would have made her just 26 years old when her heart stopped, and she entered a permanent vegetative state.
I’m not here to debate the merits and demerits of the case, but only to say to you that, if you have specific wishes, it’s much better to get them down in writing while you still have the capacity to discuss what you’d want to happen.
4. Consider the issue of guardianship of your children.
Whether married or divorced, you and your child’s father have children in common and need to consider guardianship. At any point, something could happen to one or both of you, and you should work together to spell out what you’d want to happen to your children in the event the worst happens.
Really, everyone with children should have a guardianship plan in place. Freak accidents DO happen and, although it’s probably less likely that you’ll die together if you’re divorced, it doesn’t hurt to have a plan spelled out so that you have some peace of mind where your children are concerned.
An estate planning lawyer can help you get all the pieces in place.
Emily Martin, at Hook Law Center, is a great resource. You can view her biography on her website and call the office if you’d like to make an appointment with Emily about your estate plan.
For more information, to get a copy of our divorce book for Virginia women, or to schedule an appointment, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.