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Estate Planning After Divorce

More than half of the U.S. states have some type of “revocation-on-divorce” statute.  Most of these states provide for automatic revocation of dispositions for a former spouse in a testator’s will that was executed prior to divorce.  Some states have expanded the application of their revocation-on-divorce provisions from wills to revocable living trusts, life insurance and retirement account beneficiary designations, transfer-on-death accounts and similar transfers.  Because laws vary so much from state to state, and your wishes might be different than state-imposed default rules, it is important to revisit estate planning documents and beneficiary designations after your divorce is final.

Connecticut law provides for automatic revocation of several items upon divorce.  If an individual executed a Will prior to the divorce, any provisions in the Will that provide for bequests to the ex-spouse or that appoint the ex-spouse as a fiduciary (such as an executor or trustee) are automatically revoked.  The Will itself will remain in effect, but the Will is essentially interpreted as though the ex-spouse failed to survive the testator.  Similarly, divorce automatically revokes a spouse’s appointment as an agent under a power of attorney or health care instructions, unless the document specifies otherwise.

New York, on the other hand, automatically revokes nearly all dispositions to a former spouse upon divorce, unless the controlling document provides otherwise.  This could include trusts, life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and transfer-on-death accounts.

No matter the law in your state, it is imperative to review your full estate plan, including beneficiary designations, upon divorce or legal separation.  This will ensure that your ex-spouse is provided for (or not) just as you intend.  For one example of a recent case, see: Sveen v. Melin, 138 S. Ct. 1815 (2018)

If you would like more information on this topic, please contact Attorney Elizabeth Hartery at tel:(203) 902-4882

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