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Did You Break Up? Time to Update Your Legal Documents…

Did You Breakup? Time to Update Your Legal Documents... by Tom Sciacca{Read in 6 minutes}  Love stinks. Well, maybe not all the time. If you’re successful in love, it can be a fantastic thing — however, many relationships end on terms that are less than harmonious. Even if the two of you part ways as friends: if you have included your ex in your estate planning documents, it’s time to review them and make sure that they still reflect your wishes.

Why? It seems like going through their legal documents is the last thing that one might want to do after ending a romance (and frankly, that’s probably right). However, it’s the pragmatic thing to do, particularly if you were in a relationship with someone to whom you were never married.

Let’s say that I am married, and my spouse and I get a divorce. In this situation, the law provides certain protections concerning the revocation of my spouse’s bequests under my Will, or nominations as an Executor of my Estate. However, if my ex and I were not married, there is no automatic revocation. Can you imagine having this person who is now your ex (perhaps bitterly so), inherit money from your Estate because you never updated your legal documents? Will they literally dance on your grave?

Here is a cheat sheet to help you figure out what you should do:

Review Your Will

In general, I always say that it’s a good idea to review your Will every three or five years. When your Executor offers your Will for probate before the Surrogate’s Court, there’s not going to be any chance to amend the terms of your Will. Why? Because you are already dead! Nothing can be done. So take a look at the Will.

Have you included your ex as a beneficiary? Are there people such as, children, siblings, and parents, who were in the Will simply because of their relationship to your ex?

Have you named your ex as an Executor? If the answer is yes — and you wish to change it — you really should call a lawyer and write a new version of your Will. Otherwise, despite your best efforts, your ex may wind up becoming the primary recipient of all the bounty you worked for, even though they are now the primary object of your hatred.

Review Your Beneficiary Designation Forms

As I discussed in a previous blog, there are many assets that pass outside your Estate that automatically go to those people named on those beneficiary designation forms.

It is important that you take a look at those beneficiary designation forms and make sure that your ex is not the primary, or even a contingent beneficiary any longer. Changing them is something that you can do yourself. You don’t even need to open your checkbook and pay legal fees. Simply call the bank, brokerage, or financial firm that has your account or policy, and ask them for a new beneficiary designation form.

Very often, it’s simple enough that you can complete it by yourself, and submit it. The bank, brokerage, or financial firm will send you written confirmation of the change.

Review Your Advance Directives

If you signed a Power of Attorney, or a Healthcare Proxy, take a look and see if you have named your ex as your Agent. If you have, this person may still have legal permission to transact on your bank accounts, or make a life-or-death decision for you. (I’m sure that you can imagine your ex’s face when they learn that they may have the chance to pull the plug on you!)

For obvious reasons, you may wish to update this. Again, you should talk to your lawyer or complete a new legal document.

Finally, it’s important to remember that not every relationship ends on bad terms. There are many people who end their romantic relationships and still remain incredibly close friends. If this is the case, you absolutely may still keep this person in your life as a beneficiary, an Executor, or an Agent. However, it is still important to review the documents and if you were married to them at the time, make sure that you do not refer to them as your spouse. Why? Because again, New York State has certain laws automatically revoking any benefits that your now, former spouse, would receive under your Will. The benefit of redoing your Will indicating that this person is no longer a spouse would signify that though no longer your spouse, you still wish for them to be a beneficiary or an Executor.

If you would like to discuss your legal documents in further detail, please contact me.