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What to do about the estate plan in a divorce

People in Washington who are getting a divorce may need to make some changes to their estate plan. For example, a person's spouse may have health care and financial powers of attorney in the estate plan. The principal may no longer want the spouse making health care decisions. The financial power of attorney gives someone control over all a person's assets if the person becomes incapacitated, so this may not be ideal during a divorce.

It is important for people to understand which estate planning documents they can change before the divorce is final. For example, it is usually not possible to make changes to beneficiary designations. It might be possible to change the will. Usually, a spouse cannot be disinherited. Sometimes, people will leave the spouse the minimum that the state allows. An aggressive move would be to disinherit the spouse with the knowledge that the spouse would have to spend time and money fighting the will to get any part of the estate.

If there is a pre- or post-nuptial agreement, it might address what each spouse gets in the event of a divorce. The estate plan needs to be consistent with this. Finally, the estate plan needs to be reviewed and updated again after the divorce is final.

How people handle things such as the estate plan during the divorce will depend in part upon whether the divorce is amicable or not. If a couple is able to negotiate an agreement, they are often happier with the outcome since they have the opportunity to come up with solutions that suit their individual situation. However, people should not let a desire to avoid conflict override a commitment to their financial well-being. In some cases, the other spouse may be uncooperative and litigation might be necessary.

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