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6 Aug. 2012

Post-Dissolution Estate Planning: Getting Your Affairs in Order

Posted By The Buncher Law Corporation

Estate planning is probably the last thing in the world you want to think about post-divorce. You've just digested the finances of your case, filled out financial disclosures that detail your every last possession, and now matters are finally resolved.

But, we're not done. While information is fresh in your mind - especially as you begin to rebuild your life - this is the time to update your estate planning documents. As you may be aware, dissolution of marriage automatically voids a spouse's rights under the other spouse's will or trust (not to mention the other spouse's retirement plans, power of attorney documents, pay on death bank accounts, and assets held in joint tenancy). As a result, if you and your ex-spouse completed an estate plan prior to dissolution, it is essential that you rework that plan to reflect your changed circumstances.

An estate plan can include a trust if you have assets to justify it, but your basic estate plan should generally include a will, with guardianship provisions if you have minor children, a living will, a power of attorney, and a health care power of attorney. By executing these documents, you can ensure that your assets pass to your appointed heirs, that your children remain protected, and that your last wishes are carried out as specified.

A trust is a non-probate transfer of your assets. When you execute a trust, you decide which assets should be placed within the trust, and you transfer ownership of those assets to the trust. Thereafter, upon your passing, the assets that were placed within the trust will be distributed to your appointed beneficiaries. This type of document is not subjected to probate.

A will is a document that also specifies how your assets will be distributed upon your death. Your assets will be dispersed to the beneficiaries you designate in your will, but those distributions will be subjected to the probate process (which can subject your estate to additional costs). If you have children, your will can also specify who you want to act as guardian of your child, as well as guardian of your child's potential estate.

A living will generally specifies how you want end-of-life decisions to be made (i.e., do you want heroic life-saving measures undertaken, do you want to be on life support, etc.), and a health care power of attorney designates an agent to act on your behalf if you become incapacitated and are unable to make decisions impacting your health and well-being.

A power of attorney designates an agent to act on your behalf in matters pertaining to finances if you become incapacitated. Your specified agent will then be able to sign legal documents on your behalf and manage your financial affairs if you are unable to do so.

These documents are essential, especially if you have young children, and should be considered at the end of any dissolution or legal separation matter. At the conclusion of your case, make sure to ask for an estate planning consultation so you can keep yourself, and your family, protected.

Contact us to discuss your case.

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