The relationship is over, the papers are signed, but you are not quite done. At this point it is time to update your estate plan to reflect your changed life circumstances — even more so if you are contemplating another relationship. A new marriage can open up wonderful new opportunities, but it also comes with unique issues and concerns when it comes to your estate plan. Take the time now to restructure your estate plan to match the needs of your changed circumstance, or to reflect a blend of your new and old families. Here are some issues to consider when restructuring your estate plan.
Update Will and Beneficiaries
Leaving your Will untouched after a divorce or another marriage can be a huge mistake, especially if it only includes your first family and doesn't consider the needs of your new family. Both divorce and new marriage are times to update the Will to change what you will leaving to old spouse, new spouse, children and stepchildren, etc. It also provides a chance to update other legal papers and changes beneficiaries if necessary on all your policies and accounts. While in Arizona, the divorce terminates the ex-spouse's right to be a beneficiary under a will and trust or to serve as a fiduciary, you still want to make sure that you have a new estate plan and you absolutely must check beneficiaries on all of your financial and insurance accounts. If your ex is named there … guess what? It's theirs when you die.
Rewrite the Language of Your Will
Depending on how you left your marriage, you may choose to write your ex-spouse out of your estate plan … or maybe not. In any case, take a good look at your estate plan to see what adjustments must be made. With a second marriage where other children are involved, the language of your Will can leave a lot of gaps or holes you might want to close. For example, if you leave assets to your children, do you mean your biological children, your stepchildren or both? If you leave something to be divided by your family, just who does that include?
Separate the Money from the Guardian
If you have children, unless there is a court order to the contrary, your ex-spouse is the natural guardian of your children. In many cases, it makes very good sense to create a trust with a separate or independent trustee to manage your children's money. There are too many horror stories about the inheritance being spend on the ex-spouses own interests rather than the children. Do not let that happen to you!
Especially when undertaking a new marriage, new and old families can be very sensitive to estate planning issues. Do you want to leave assets to the stepparent and assume he or she will do the right thing by your biological children? Or would you prefer to take care of them now? Don't assume that just because everyone gets along now that they will remain cordial. You must plan these sensitive matters carefully.
Consider a QTIP trust.
For families with greater wealth, a QTIP Trust, also known as a Qualified Terminable Interest Property Trust, allows the surviving spouse to live off the income from your assets and live on your property, but ultimately leaves everything to your children.
If you are taking the plunge again, also take the time to rework your estate plan so no one is left out and your assets are going exactly where you want them to go. If you are getting a divorce, you need to decide how to divide your assets without your ex in the picture.