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Estate Planning for the Recently Divorced


If you made an estate plan in which you provided generously for your spouse, or one in which you and your spouse mutually agreed to leave more assets to your children from previous marriages than to each other, the news that your spouse wants a divorce probably upends your world even more than it would for young people who had a brief, volatile marriage, no dependents, and no concept of “forever.”  How do you write your spouse out of your estate plan now that your marriage is over?  Do you still consider your ex-spouse a family member for whom you want to provide after your death?  If you already have an estate plan but you need to modify it to reflect your recent or impending divorce, contact a Washington DC estate planning lawyer.

Write a New Will That Declares Your Old Will Invalid

One of the first steps in the probate process is to locate the deceased person’s will.  If there are multiple versions of the will, it is up to the survivors to determine which one accurately represents the deceased person’s wishes.  When you get divorced, you should write a new will that reflects the changes in how you want to bequeath your assets, even if you still choose to leave some money to your ex-spouse or former stepchildren.  You should state explicitly in your new will that it replaces all earlier versions of your will, and that older drafts of the will are no longer valid.  You may choose to destroy hard copies of your old will and delete electronic copies, but this is less important than specifying in your new will that it is the only legitimate version.

Choose New Beneficiaries

Your will is not the only document you will need to revise when modifying your estate plan to reflect your newly divorced status.  If you have payable on death bank accounts, transfer on death investments, retirement accounts, or life insurance policies, you probably named your spouse as the beneficiary.  After your divorce, you will probably want to choose a different family member to be the beneficiary.  If you do not name a new beneficiary, these assets will go to your ex-spouse.

Can Your Ex-Spouse Inherit from You Even If You Write Them Out of Your Will?

Under certain circumstances, divorced people can collect spousal benefits and survivor benefits from social security through a spouse to whom they are no longer married.  Your ex might still be able to get Social Security benefits connected to their marriage to you if your ex-spouse meets all the following conditions:

  • Was married to you for at least ten years
  • Is 62 years old or older
  • Is not married to someone else when applying for your Social Security benefits

Your ex-spouse’s ability to collect social security through you does not affect your estate plan, though, nor does it affect your new spouse if you have remarried.  In fact, you will probably never find out, because your ex-spouse sends the application directly to Social Security, and for privacy reasons, Social Security does not notify you.

Let Us Help You Today

Estate planning is an ongoing process, even for the most well-organized people.  Contact the Washington DC estate planning lawyers at Tobin O’Connor Concino P.C. or call 202-362-5900.


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