What Happens to Your Will if You Get Divorced?

It is especially important to review your estate plan in a divorce situation.
It is especially important to review your estate plan in a divorce situation.

Every time you experience a life changing event, including divorce, it’s time to revisit your Will to make sure there are no unpleasant surprises for you or your family. As reported in the article “Rewriting Your Will After Divorce” from Investopedia, failing to review your current estate plan when contemplating a divorce can lead to results that you never intended.

Texas Law Can Save You

Luckily, in Texas we have several laws that cover you if you forget or don’t get around to writing your ex spouse out of your Will. Texas law presumes that after a divorce you do not want a former spouse to be a beneficiary under your Will or to act as your executor or agent under a power of attorney to make financial or medical decisions for you.

In fact, if you do want your former spouse to be your executor or agent, you need to reappoint them in new estate planning documents you execute after the divorce.

One thing to remember is that if your ex is a parent of your children, you will not be able to eliminate him or her as a guardian of your children if something happens to you while they are minors. The only way the other parent will not be allowed to be guardian of his or her child is if the parent is found unsuitable.

But you should still execute a new designation of guardian for your minor children in case your ex who is the parent is deceased or is found to be unsuitable to be guardian.

So, Where’s the Problem?

What if you pass away before the divorce is final? The law only applies to a divorced spouse, not if you are only separated or waiting for the divorce to be final. That’s why it’s a good idea to change your estate planning documents when you’re contemplating a divorce.

Issues With Some Retirement Plans

Also, Texas law cannot override a very harsh US Supreme Court case holding that state law does not apply to employer related retirement plans, such as 401(k)’s and 403(b)’s. These kinds of retirement benefits are subject to federal law which supersedes state law.

This US Supreme Court case, Egelhoff v Egelhoff, was decided in 2001. Mr. Egelhoff, an employee of Boeing Company, had a pension and life insurance policy that was provided by his employer.

Mr. Egelhoff, died in a car accident two months after his divorce, but before he changed the beneficiaries on his retirement and company life insurance.  Though the company still listed Mr. Egelhoff’s ex-wife as beneficiary, Mr. Egelhoff’s children by a previous marriage claimed that he had every intention of removing their stepmother as beneficiary and naming them, his children, as beneficiaries. That would seem to make sense given the circumstances.

Mr. Egelhoff’s children sued their father’s ex-wife for the retirement benefits and the life insurance, claiming that there was no way their father wanted his ex-wife to have the benefits to the detriment of his children.

The Court said that, under federal law, the company’s plan documents control who the beneficiary is and that the benefits would be distributed to the person who was listed with the company as beneficiary at the time of death, even if the beneficiary had been recently divorced from the employee.

The moral of the story is to make sure that beneficiaries on company related benefits are changed immediately after divorce to avoid the unfair result that happened to the Egelhoff children. State law cannot save you in that situation.

What’s Our Takeaway from This?

Every time there is a major life event (divorce, death of a family member, marriage, increase or decrease in wealth, illness, etc.) it is time to review your estate plan to make sure that it reflects what you want and need now. If you wait too long, things may not work out the way you want them to for your family and yourself.

Reference: Investopedia (September 14, 2021) “Rewriting Your Will After Divorce”

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Responsibilities of an Agent under a Power of Attorney

The concept of a power of attorney sounds simple but there is a lot to know about this important part of an estate plan, says the Rushville Republican in “Financial power of attorney responsibilities.” Whether you are named as someone’s power of attorney or you are considering who to name on your behalf, it is important to understand the terminology, the role and the responsibilities.

The person who signs the POA is called the “principal” and the person to whom authority is given, is often referred to as the “attorney in fact” or the “agent.”

What powers are given to the person who becomes the agent?  The POA provides what powers the agent will have, but generally the idea is the agent can do whatever the individual would do. That includes opening bank accounts, buying and selling property, managing investments, filing taxes, cashing checks and closing accounts. An agent is a considered a fiduciary of the principal, which means that he has a legal duty to act in the principal’s best interest.

The POA generally is not recorded in a courthouse. If you are signing a document for the principal that does have to be recorded with the county, like a deed to a house, then you will need to present and record the POA with the county recorder, before the document can be recorded. The laws in your state or county may be different, so check with your estate planning attorney to be certain.

The POA should remember to keep his assets and the principal’s assets separate. Money should not be intermingled in bank accounts or investment accounts. This is a very important point, since the fiduciary responsibility is a serious matter. The POA can be changed or revoked by the principal at any time, as long as she is mentally competent.

The POA ends with the death of the principal. It is meant to be used as a helpful tool, while the person is living. After the person dies, the executor takes over as the personal representative of the person’s estate.

Speak with your estate planning attorney about making the decisions as to who should be your Power of Attorney. This is a very important role and it must be someone who you can trust implicitly and who is also willing to take on the responsibilities.

 

Reference: Rushville Republican (Jan. 22,2019) “Financial power of attorney responsibilities”

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Long Distance Caregiving During These Difficult Times

A well thought out plan is the key to effective long distance caregiving.
A well thought out plan is the key to effective long distance caregiving.

Trying to coordinate long distance caregiving is a challenge for many. Add COVID-19 into the mix, and the situation becomes even more difficult, reports the article “When your parent is far away and you are trying to care for them” from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

If you are in the position of having to care for a loved one long distance, the starting point is to have the person you are caring for give you legal authorization to act on their behalf to make financial and medical decisions for them. A financial power of attorney (known as a Statutory Durable Power of Attorney in Texas) naming you as agent will allow you to help manage your loved one’s financial affairs.  It is also important that the person give you a HIPAA Release. HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) is the law that governs the use, disclosure and protection of sensitive patient information. With a HIPAA Release you will be able to receive medical information relating to the person you are caring for and to discuss matters with the person’s health care providers.

Next, find out where all of their important documents are, including insurance policies (long-term care, health, life, auto, home), Social Security and Medicare cards. You’ll also want to be able to access tax documents which will provide you with information on retirement accounts, bank accounts and investments. Don’t forget to ask your loved one for family documents, including birth, death, and marriage certificates, which may be necessary to claim benefits. Make copies of these documents so that you can make appropriate decisions for your loved one, even from a long distance.

Ask your family member whether he or she has completed their estate planning, and whether they want to make any changes. You may wish to review with your loved one changes that indicate when an estate plan should be updated. See https://www.galliganmanning.com/when-to-update-your-estate-plan/.

Put all of this information into a binder, so you have access to it easily.

Consider setting up a care plan for your family member to take care of things that come up when you can’t be there. Think about what kind of care do they have in place right now, and what do you anticipate they may need in the near future? There should also be a contingency plan for emergencies, which seem to occur when they are least expected and which make long distance caregiving especially difficult.

A geriatric care manager or a social worker who can do a needs assessment can help coordinate services, including shopping for groceries, administering medication and help with food preparation, bathing and dressing. If possible, develop a list of neighbors, friends or fellow worshippers who might create a local support system that compliments your long distance caregiving.

Keeping in touch is very important. These days, many are doing regular video calls with their family members. Conference calls with caregivers and your loved one is another way keep everyone in touch.

Long distance caregiving is difficult, but a well-thought out plan and preparing for all situations will make your loved one safer.

Reference: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Sep. 28, 2020) “When your parent is far away and you are trying to care for them”

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