What is the effect of a divorce on a will?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jun 19, 2018

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The effect of divorce on a will generally depends on your state’s law. In some states, a divorce decree automatically revokes your entire will. In others, it revokes only those provisions of the will that made gifts to your former spouse, not the whole will. There are also times when a will could be affected by the divorce agreement or the court decree itself, even if the will contains no provisions relating to your former spouse.

Effect of a Divorce on the Estate – An Example

Let’s say that you originally left your stock portfolio to one child and your interest in the family home to another. If you then get a divorce and the divorce decree awards ownership of the family home to your ex-spouse, then your will would end up leaving nothing to one child and probably more than you had intended to the other. If you can see this sort of situation coming ahead of time, then you can look over your will with a family lawyer now to be sure it creates the results that you want.

Reviewing Your Will

Parties getting a divorce should review their wills to make sure they are still in effect after the divorce. Sometimes the will must be modified in order to ensure the parties’ desires continue to be expressed, even in changed financial situations. There are also other estate planning devices such as trusts, insurance policies, joint bank accounts, pay-on-death bank accounts, property owned by joint tenancy with a right of survivorship, and so on. Never rely on the divorce agreement itself to change these. You’ll want to change the title to property, named beneficiaries, or account information for each piece of property or account that may be affected. Contact the banks, insurance companies, pension plans, or property registration offices directly to change beneficiaries and property ownership. Trust provisions also have to be changed if your want to eliminate your ex-spouse as a beneficiary.

Getting Help

There are many legal options available that can reduce the negative effects of a divorce on estate planning. However, some of these options have strict deadlines. If you are in the middle of a divorce and have concerns about the impact of the divorce on your will, you should speak with your divorce attorney or your will attorney for more assistance.

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