Nearly sixty percent of Americans do not have wills or any kind of estate planning in place (aarp.org; caring.com). Without estate planning documents, state laws will govern who can make certain decisions for you in the event of an accident and who will inherit from you upon your death.
Although dealing with another lawyer is likely the last thing someone going through the divorce process wants to deal with, it is extremely important that new or updated estate planning documents be created at this time. Existing estate plan documents created before divorce likely name the ex-spouse as the primary person to be in control of finances, medical decisions, and care decisions in the event of incapacity or need. If legal documents are not in place, until the divorce is final, the law considers the couple married and permits the other spouse to serve as your decision-maker by default.
In any case, if you have filed for divorce, chances are good that you may not want your soon-to-be-ex spouse making financial, medical or care decisions for you any longer. You can, and should, create new legal documents leaving these important decisions to someone you trust. Also, to the extent you are legally permitted to do so, you should consider redoing your will or trust documents as well as beneficiary designations removing your spouse.
In addition, clients with children should consider creating a trust for their children so that the ex-spouse would not control of any inheritance left to the children by the client. The minimum documents we recommend are the following:
- Medical Power of Attorney with HIPAA
- Financial Power of Attorney
- Guardianship Declaration
- Will or Trust plan