By: Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
October 15, 2015
Don’t Forget to Change Your Will after You Divorce – Part 1
So you’ve invested time, energy, and care into creating a comprehensive estate plan, complete with a will, trusts, power of attorney, health care surrogate, and living will. Congratulations!
But before you brush off your hands and pronounce that your estate plan is complete, it’s important to remember that estate planning is an ongoing process. As you go through life changes, you should revisit your estate plan to update it and ensure it still reflects your needs and wishes. You should plan on updating your will after all important life events, such as marriage, childbirth, divorce, and death.
It is often particularly important to change your will, trusts, and other estate planning documents after a divorce—something Jesse Marks discovered too late.
A Fairytale Romance with a Less-than-Fairytale-Like Ending
There was a time when everyone thought Jesse Marks and Molly McCartney were made for each other. The two high school sweethearts had begun dating during junior year, and became inseparable within months. Theirs’ was a fairy tale-like romance—she was a beautiful, all-American cheerleader who got straight As and came from a wealthy family; he was a rebellious musician who smoked cigarettes in the woods behind the school. Their seemingly opposite personalities balanced out, and everyone—even their parents—agreed they brought out the best in each other.
Molly was accepted to a fancy college up East, and Jesse accompanied her on the move. While she studied English, Jesse worked at a pizza parlor and played music at local bars at night. Jesse proposed to Molly shortly after she graduated, promising to give her the lifestyle in which she was accustomed and deserved.
Jesse and Molly moved back to their hometown in Florida, where Jesse began working for Molly’s father in an attempt to keep his promise. As Molly bounced from odd job to odd job, Jesse continued to impress Molly’s father and soon rose to a position of assistant manager.
He was proud of his work at the firm, but missed playing music constantly. Jesse practiced his guitar and banjo whenever he got a rare free moment, and played gigs at local bars whenever he could. He hoped that Molly would get a job soon so they could become more financially stable, and he might be able to retreat to a lower level position so he could spend more time working on his music.
Within a couple of years, Molly became pregnant. A year after having their first baby boy—Joey—Molly became pregnant with a set of twin girls—Angela and Michelle. With Molly at home taking care of three young kids, it soon became apparent that Jesse wouldn’t be able to give up his high-ranking position and high-paying salary any time soon. As his free time dwindled, he rarely had time to play music at all.
But Jesse stopped minding. He loved his children, and wanted to give them the world. He signed them up for guitar lessons, and loved nothing more than helping them practice. He didn’t even protest when his wife began spending more and more time going out with her friends from her creative writing class.
Upon his father-in-law’s suggestion, Jesse started a college fund for each of his children, and consulted with an attorney to start an estate plan to ensure they were taken care of and provided for if something should ever happen to him.
Unfortunately, while Jesse was drafting a will and setting up trusts, he and his wife were drifting further apart, and she was becoming closer with her creative writing teacher. Just after he completed his estate planning documents; will, trust, power of attorney, health care surrogate, and living will, she told him she had met someone else and wanted a divorce. Jesse was heartbroken but not that surprised.
Within a couple of years of his divorce, Jesse married someone new and became both a proud step-father to his new wife’s two children. By age 40, he had even become a relatively successful musician.
Unfortunately, Jesse died unexpectedly of a brain aneurysm that occurred while he was practicing playing his music. It was even more of a shock when his wife and children met to go through his will, trust, and other estate planning documents and discovered that he had left much of his estate to his former wife, Molly.
What went wrong? Although Jesse had taken great effort to create a will and trusts to care for his family in the event of his death, he’d neglected to update his estate plan after his divorce. Jesse had named Molly as the primary beneficiary on his will and trusts. When he had been devising the plan, he’d never even considered the possibility of divorce, so he did not include a clause in his trust that would trigger his wife to be treated as predeceased after a divorce.
Jesse’s will left Molly with nearly everything. She divided some of the property she inherited among Jesse’s natural children, but gave nothing to his step-children from his second marriage or his new wife. After all, she had no obligation to do so.
This story is a great example of why it’s crucial to revisit your estate plan regularly throughout your life to ensure it accounts for changes in your circumstances, goals, and needs. If you are interested in updating your will or other estate planning documents, talk to a Florida estate planning attorney, who can help you identify and execute important changes properly.
Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
Strategic Planning With Purpose