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Don't forget your estate plan after a divorce

Once your divorce is complete, you likely don't want to look at another legal document (or lawyer) for a while. However, there's one last and essential legal matter you need to deal with -- your estate plan.

Your plan needs to reflect:

-- Your new marital status

-- Your wishes for the disposition of your assets to heirs and beneficiaries

-- Power of attorney designations for the person(s) you want to handle your medical and financial decisions if you're no longer able to do so.

If you and your spouse drew up estate plans together using the same attorney, this is the time to find your own. Many North Carolina family law attorneys also handle estate planning, so you may be able to turn to the attorney who represented you in the divorce to help you make the necessary revisions.

The revisions that you make to your estate plan cannot contradict your divorce agreement. For example, if your divorce agreement stipulates that your ex-spouse will continue to be your life insurance policy beneficiary, you can't change that beneficiary designation without creating a legal mess for your family.

The other estate planning documents that you and your attorney will want to review and possibly revise are:

-- Will

-- Trusts

-- Powers of attorney

Remember that if you change the beneficiaries on your retirement and investment accounts, it's not enough to do that in your estate planning documents. You need to do it on the individual accounts themselves. Again, be certain that you don't make any changes on your accounts that contradict what is stipulated in your divorce agreement.

If you don't have an estate plan in place, now is the time to get one. An ex-spouse is no longer considered an heir. Therefore, if you were to pass away, your estate could end up in probate, which can be expensive and time-consuming for your family to deal with. Further, if you haven't designated your wishes for end-of-life decisions, your family members may find themselves battling over what they think you would want.

An estate plan should be modified, or at least reviewed, whenever someone makes a major life change. Certainly, divorce falls into that category. The sooner you deal with this after your divorce is final, the more assurance you have that your wishes will be honored when you're no longer here.

Source: Forbes, "The First Thing You Must Do When Your Divorce Is Final," Mark Eghrari, accessed Oct. 19, 2016

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