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Getting Divorced?  Get a New Estate Plan.

What happens to your estate plan if you get divorced?  In Arizona, divorce does not automatically remove your spouse or their family members from your estate documents; you must change your estate plan to remove unwanted beneficiaries.  Failure to adjust these documents can result in unexpected transfers of property.

A current New York case illustrates the problems resulting from failure to update estate documents.  The family of Robyn Lewis is fighting Ms. Lewis’s former in-laws over a home Ms. Lewis owned in Clayton, New York.  Ms. Lewis executed a will in 1996, which named her husband as the primary beneficiary and her Father-in-law as the secondary beneficiary of the home.  The parties divorced in 2007.  Pursuant to New York law, Ms. Lewis’s ex-husband was automatically removed from her will after the divorce; however, the divorce did not disinherit her former Father-in-law.  Ms. Lewis’s former Father-in-law presented a copy of the 1996 will to the probate court and claimed he was Ms. Lewis’s beneficiary.  The court sided with Ms. Lewis’s former Father-in-law and awarded him the home.  Ms. Lewis’s family appealed the decision.  The case is still pending.

To avoid such hardships, stay current with your estate plans and make changes when necessary.  Both spouses should seek independent advice and draft separate estate plans once the divorce is final.  Make sure your attorney and other family members have copies of the new documents, including your will, powers of attorney and health care directives.  Remember to properly revoke the previous version of your estate planning documents.  Arizona law requires tearing up old documents and drafting new documents to revoke and replace the previous version.

You must also update any and all accounts that have a beneficiary designation.  Insurance policies and retirement accounts will pass to the designated beneficiary regardless of what a Will provides.  Change your trusts, retirement accounts, bank accounts, life insurance policies, and any annuities to remove any unwanted or unintended beneficiaries.

Once your divorce is final and the community property is divided, consult with an estate planning attorney and draft new documents.  Making the appropriate changes now will prevent further heartbreak.