Divorce is painful. It is not an experience that any of us wish to ever go through. Today across America, however, there is a steadily rising trend of seniors over the age of sixty who are divorcing. Research shows that divorce rates of people aged fifty and above have doubled between 1990 and 2010.  

Sociologists credit multiple factors contributing to the increased divorce rate in seniors. These include frustrations over retirement plans, overall finances, and the fact that children, who may have kept the marriage together, are now older and out of the house. Although divorce at any age is not easy, “Gray Divorce” poses significant issues and complications for seniors and their loved ones.

We know divorce at any age is difficult. While it may be hard for you to think about the future right now, it is critical that you ensure you are protected after your divorce is finalized. One of the most time-sensitive concerns when you are going through divorce or immediately after is updating your estate plan. In almost all instances in California, your estate planning will be invalidated after your divorce is final.

Remember, your estate plan is much more than just your Last Will and Testament or your Revocable Trust Agreement. While who inherits your assets from you at your death is important, much more important is who will be there to make financial and medical decisions for you at a time when you cannot. This means updating your Health Care Directive documents and Durable Power of Attorney as soon as possible, in addition to the documents that distribute your assets.

Many spouses choose one another as their agent under their power of attorney or surrogate under their health care planning documents. This is a fairly common decision that spouses make because they trust their partner with making important decisions at crucial times. When you decide to get divorced it is likely that your feelings change.  You may no longer want to leave your ex in charge and need to choose new decision makers who will care of you in times of crisis.

Another planning tool that you need to modify after divorce is your Last Will and Testament or Trust Agreement. In these estate planning documents, it is likely you left your assets first to your spouse.  Be careful that you not only think about the estate planning documents that create your legacy, but also your payable on death or transfer on death accounts. You need to schedule a meeting with your estate planning attorney to update your planning as soon as possible.

We know how demanding this type of planning can be at an already difficult time. To make it easier for you, start by making a list of questions you have that you want to ask your estate planning attorney and the issues that concern you in light of the divorce. The key to ensuring your planning protects you in a crisis is to take action early.

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Kevin Snyder is a husband, father, and an attorney at Snyder Law, PC in Irvine, California. He is all about family and is passionate about educating his community about trust and estate planning, veterans issues, and how to protect what matters most – family, assets, and legacy.

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