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Amid the upheaval that comes with dissolving a marriage, it’s easy to forget about estate planning matters. After all, divorce is happening right now while your estate plan might seem like something for later. But your estate plan probably includes your spouse, and your intentions regarding his or her inheritance no doubt have changed. As such, you should dig out your will and other estate planning documents and make time to update them either during the divorce or as soon as it is final.
First off, you should revoke your existing will and create a new one. Although Connecticut law states that a divorce automatically cancels your spouse’s entitlement to property under your will, other will provisions remain intact. For example, any distributions to the children or other relatives of your spouse will not be cancelled upon divorce. Changing your will also allows you to remove your ex as the executor of your estate and to appoint a replacement.
Next, if you have a trust, it will most likely need to be updated. Revocable trust provisions giving property to a spouse are not automatically cancelled under Connecticut law. So you need to amend the trust to remove your spouse if he or she is listed by name. If your spouse is listed generically as “wife” or “husband” or “spouse,” it is still preferable to revise the document to avoid any ambiguity in interpretation. If your spouse is your designated trustee, you will also want to appoint a new trustee.
Trusts present another potential problem during a divorce. Connecticut is an “all property” state, which does not distinguish between marital and separate assets for purposes of equitable distribution. That means your spouse’s vested interests in a trust might be part of the property he or she receives in the divorce. Whether or not an interest is considered vested depends on how much control or access your spouse has to the trust property. You will need to review and amend the provisions of the trust if you would like to limit your spouse’s entitlement to a share.
You should also review beneficiary designations in your insurance policies, retirement and other financial accounts — including 401(k)’s and IRAs — since these assets are not affected by the provisions of your will or trust, but pass directly to the designated beneficiary. Although your spouse can be awarded shares of your retirement and other accounts as part of equitable distribution, you can change the beneficiary designations going forward.
Finally, update your power of attorney and advance directive documents. You may have named your spouse as your agent on these important legal documents, giving them authority to make financial and healthcare decisions on your behalf. You can terminate these documents and create new ones naming new agents after divorce.
If you are getting divorced or are recently divorced, now is the time to update your estate plan. The lawyers of Gesmonde, Pietrosimone & Sgrignari, L.L.C. are here to help. Call 203-745-0942 or contact us online to schedule a consultation with an attorney in our Hamden or East Haven offices.
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Gesmonde, Pietrosimone & Sgrignari, L.L.C. is located in Hamden, CT and serves clients in and around North Haven, Hamden, Waterbury, Bethany, Milford, Wallingford, Prospect, Woodbridge, Northford, Madison, Beacon Falls, Branford, Cheshire, North Branford, East Haven, Naugatuck, Meriden, Ansonia and New Haven County.
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