Divorce is often the most major disruption people will experience in their lives.
It need not also disrupt things after their deaths.
“If you have just gotten divorced, you may be focused on getting on with your life,” notes a recent story in The Wall Street Journal by Liz Moyer. “But make sure you also have updated the financial arrangements that kick in at your death. Failure to do so, or to alert all relevant parties to the changes, could result in certain assets and benefits unintentionally going to your former spouse or his or her family upon your death.”
The story focuses on a specific example, that of a court case in New York involving a woman who died in 2009, two years after divorcing her husband.
“The family of Robyn Lewis, who died five years ago at the age of 43, is battling her former in-laws, who stand to inherit a $200,000 home in Clayton, N.Y., even though she and her husband divorced in 2007,” according to the story.
Robyn Lewis executed a will in 1996 in which she left everything to her then-husband with his father named as second beneficiary.
“While under New York law the divorce automatically cut her ex-husband out of her will, it didn’t cut out her father-in-law, who presented a copy of the 1996 will to the court,” Moyer writes. “Ms. Lewis, according to her family, wrote a new will after her divorce that changed the beneficiaries, but family members were unable to locate it to offer it as evidence.”
“The lesson is to stay on top of your estate plans,” Elizabeth Devillers Moeller, a lawyer at D.J. and J.A. Cirando in Syracuse, N.Y., the firm representing the Lewis family, was quoted as saying. “That means drafting a new will—and making sure that appropriate people have copies of the document or know where to find it.”
“The key is to make sure your estate planning documents, not only your will but also your power of attorney and health-care proxy, clearly reflect your intentions,” stated Julian Modesti, a lawyer at Syracuse firm Menter, Rudin and Trivelpiece who is representing Ms. Lewis’s former in-laws.