Do I Need Estate Planning After Divorce?


Divorce estate planning is an essential part of getting divorced. Estate plans created during your marriage need to be revised with new documents to reflect your new circumstances. If you don’t update and revise your documents, your ex-spouse may inherit your assets, or have control over your healthcare or finances in the event of your incapacity. And if you don’t have any documents in place at all, now’s the time to get your wishes down in writing. 

What kinds of things do you need to change?

  1. It is important that your ex-husband or ex-wife is no longer named as a beneficiary on any of your assets.You should, therefore, change the beneficiary designations on things like life insurance and retirement accounts (assuming your divorce decree allows you to do so). If you have a will or trust naming your spouse as beneficiary on things like real estate or tangible personal property, this needs to be updated as well.
  2. You also want to be sure your ex is not named in any major roles in your estate plan, like executor of your estate or trustee of any trusts. You’ll likely want to remove them from your health care proxy and power of attorney, so they don’t have any control over your healthcare or assets if you become disabled or incapacitated.
  3. Finally, while it’s almost certain your ex would get custody of any joint children you have together should you pass away, that does not necessarily mean you want them managing your kids’ inheritance. Your ex can act as the day-to-day caregiver, but you can put someone else in control of the money. If you’d rather have someone else acting as trustee of your children’s inheritance, your estate plan should reflect that.

A comprehensive estate plan includes several different documents – it’s not just a signed will. Everybody should have either a will or a living trust to name beneficiaries for their assets that do not have a “built in estate plan” like life insurance or retirement accounts. Remember that a will has to be probated at your death, however, and probate comes with many downsides. If you don’t want your family to have to deal with the time, expense, and publicity of probate court, a living trust might be a better option. Living trusts avoid probate court and come with other benefits not available with a will, which is why so many people choose this option. 

  1. Health Care Proxy naming someone to make medical decisions for you in the event you aren’t able to communicate those decisions yourself.
  2. Living Will communicating your end of life wishes. These documents are especially important today during COVID.
  3. Power of Attorney giving someone you trust permission to do things, like pay your bills and file your income taxes if you’re incapacitated.

Without these documents, your family will have to go to court to get permission to handle your affairs in the event of your illness. This is expensive, time-consuming, and public. 

What to do if you have minor children?

If you have minor children, you want to name temporary and permanent guardians in the event something happens to both parents. Your estate plan should include final disposition instructions that state your preferences, in terms of burial versus cremation and other final wishes. A comprehensive estate plan includes legacy planning that helps you pass on intangible assets, like your values and experiences, in addition to your financial assets. Finally, if you have a big enough estate, you might have to do some additional planning to minimize or eliminate the taxes due at your death. 

Keep in mind estate planning is not something you do once and then never think about again. Your documents should be updated as your life, the law, and your assets change. Be sure to work with an estate planning attorney who keeps in touch to ensure your documents are kept up to date.  

If you live in the New York area, the Law Office of Laura Cowan can help you revise your old estate planning documents or get a new plan in place! The first step is to schedule a virtual “Peace of Mind Planning Session.” This is a 1-hour Zoom with attorney Laura Cowan. We will talk about your goals and objectives, and Laura will present your options and our estate planning packages and fees. Then, if we decide we are a good fit to work together, we will talk about next steps. Mention the ExExperts and we will waive the $450 session fee! 

You can book your “Peace of Mind Planning Session” online at

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