When you get a divorce in California (and everywhere else!), there are important estate planning considerations to take into account. In fact, these are so critical that you could end up leaving your estate to your ex spouse (ouch!), having your ex make important medical decisions for you, or – if you act hastily and without the proper information – you could get into trouble with the court system.
During Divorce: First, when you file for divorce in California, regardless of whether it’s Alameda County, Contra Costa County, or any other county, once the other party is served, both of you become restrained from doing certain things. One of these restraining order involves your will or trust, and prohibits you from making any changes to your will or trust once you’ve filed for divorce and served the other party. One of the others prohibits either of you from changing or cancelling any insurance, such as life, health, auto/property, etc., or changing the beneficiaries on any insurance or other account where a beneficiary is named. Do not make the mistake of cancelling your ex’s health insurance or changing your will after you have filed for divorce!
You may make these changes with permission from the other party or with a court order, and you may want to seek this. Particularly if you have separate property, the last thing you want is for your ex to get it all if something happens to you. You may also want to get permission to change the beneficiary of your life insurance into a trust for your children, but you need permission for both of these actions.
One of the changes that you should make as soon as you can, and there is no court prohibition on this, is your powers of attorney. For both health and finances, you want to make sure you designate someone other than your ex who will make decisions for you and manage your affairs should you become incapacitated. If you’re lying in a hospital bed unconscious, do you really want your ex deciding whether to get surgery or wait to see if the medication improves your condition?
After Divorce: Once your divorce is final, you want to make sure you change your will or trust, your powers of attorney (if you’ve not done so already), the beneficiaries on your life insurance, retirement and other accounts, and make sure you have enough life insurance for your children and long-term care insurance to care for yourself as you get older.
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