Estate Planning And Divorce

estate planning lawyer, probate lawyer

Estate Planning And Divorce

Let’s talk about Estate Planning and Divorce. Will a divorce affect your Will? Over the years, many people have asked us about how a divorce will affect a Will or Estate Plan. Sometimes the question comes out of curiosity, and at other times, the person asking has just gone through a divorce. The best time to review or establish an estate plan is after the occurrence of a major life event.  In fact, these are often the only times many people even think about estate planning.

Major life events may include marriage, the birth of a child, or the death of a family member. Unfortunately, divorce is also a major life.

Beneficiary and Executor Designations

Typically, married couples have their estate plans drafted at the same time, and the terms of each plan are very similar. More often than not, one spouse has named the other as the executor of his or her Estate, as well as the sole beneficiary of his or her Estate.  While  Tennessee law contains a statute that essentially disinherits a person’s spouse in the event of divorce, that statute does not affect beneficiary designations or the titling or re-titling of assets.  Therefore, we do not advise that you rely on this statute alone.

In addition to reviewing your Will and other estate planning documents after a divorce, it is also important to  review the ownership structure and beneficiary designations of any assets that will not pass under the terms of your Will, such as retirement plans or life insurance policies.  Many assets, such as these, do not pass pursuant to the terms of a person’s Will, but rather will be distributed according to beneficiary designations.

Legal Guardians for Minor Children

In Tennessee, the only way to designate a legal guardian for a minor child in the event that something should happen to you is under the terms of your Will.   The person you choose to designate as the guardian of your child while you are married may greatly differ from whom you would select to fulfill the role after a divorce.

Let us help you with Estate Planning and Divorce Issues

As you can see, it is extremely important to undergo a comprehensive review of your assets and estate plan in the event of a divorce. If you have recently experienced a divorce or other major life event, or if you would like us to create or review an estate plan for you, please call us at 901-372-5003. We’re ready to help you.

Law FAQ: Why can’t I name my minor kids or grandkids as beneficiaries?

You can certainly leave assets to your children and grandchildren if you do so correctly, and there are a number of options to choose from when planning for minor beneficiaries. The problem comes in when minor beneficiaries are not properly planned for, which usually occurs when a minor is named as a beneficiary on a beneficiary designation form (e.g. life insurance beneficiary or retirement account beneficiary) or outright in a will or trust (e.g. $15,000 to each of my grandchildren).

Why? Minors cannot legally hold property in their own name. An adult (custodian, trustee or guardian) must hold the assets for the minor’s benefit until the child reaches a certain age. In Tennessee, the legal age at which they can receive or own property directly is eighteen (18). In your estate plan, you can change the age at which you want them to receive the funds, but the minimum is eighteen. When a minor is named as a beneficiary or left an outright distribution in a will or trust, someone has to petition the court to be appointed guardian of the child’s property. Even if a natural parent and legal guardian is involved, the parent would have to seek to be appointed and subject to the court’s supervision in the management and expenditure of any funds. Custody and legal guardianship of the person of the child are not alone sufficient to handle the child’s funds absent a guardianship. I have been involved in many cases where a child’s natural parent has to be appointed as guardian and subject to the court’s ongoing supervision regarding their child’s funds because the other parent is deceased and the child was the beneficiary on the life insurance.

In some cases, the funds can be deposited with the court clerk, and the child can petition the court to release the funds when he or she reaches the age of 18. In other cases, an ongoing guardianship is required, which involves court approval for expenditures, annual accountings and sometimes a great deal of time and expense.

What should you do? I will talk more about some of the options for leaving funds to your beneficiaries in the coming weeks.  But for now, make sure you do not have your minor beneficiaries named on any beneficiary designation form.  If you would like to learn more about the options for your beneficiaries, please contact our office.