Ending a marriage, whether though divorce or dissolution, isn’t a simple process. It’s not like flipping a switch, one day you’re married, another day you’re not. Whether a couple was together for a relatively short period of time or set down roots together for decades, spouses separating financially, physically, and emotionally is a labor-intensive journey. With all the paperwork and meeting with attorneys throughout the divorce, the last thing people want to do is sit down with an Ohio estate planning attorney and go over estate planning documents. Unfortunately, reviewing and updating estate planning documents is a non-negotiable part of martial separation. Regardless of whether you do anything or not, your estate planning documents will have a profound effect on you during some of the most critical, and vulnerable, moments of your life and in the lives of your family.
Apart from drafting a new last will and testament, powers of attorney, updating beneficiary designations, and considering trust use, what else should be updated post-separation? The following is a list of additional advice every experienced Cleveland domestic attorney would give their divorced or separated clients regarding their estate documents:
Review Your New Tax Reality
A big part of estate planning is minimizing taxes. Namely, estate, generation-skipping, and gift taxes. Since probate administration can easily eat up 5% to 8% of the value of a decedent’s estate, everyone is looking to save money. The good news, however, there are exemption limits. This is where the unified tax credit comes in. The unified tax credit is a certain amount of money and assets that can be given free of estate, generation-skipping, and gift taxes. Individuals get a set exemptible limit, but married couples can effectively utilize twice the amount than that of single individuals. Obviously, an estate plan formed on tax assumptions centered around accessible martial exemptions and deductions needs to be rethought post-divorce. The last thing you want is your surviving friends and family to deal with an out-of-date tax plan for your estate. The unified tax credit, however, is only the tip of the tax iceberg. Numerous federal, state, and local taxes work differently for married couples than they do for single individuals, make sure the middle of April isn’t full of nasty surprises because you assumed you’d still be taxed at a married rate.
Review Current Property Ownership
Often spouses are joint owners of property obtained during the lifetime of the marriage. Vehicles, boats, martial homes, and vacation residences all must be reviewed post-divorce to confirm who the listed owner or owners are. What is said on paper matters in the legal world and a house owned jointly with a right of survivorship goes to the surviving owner, regardless of whether the divorce is finalized. Often in the whirlwind of divorce negotiations and arguments, simple things like updating a deed goes unnoticed. If there is a dispute, however, one of the first places a court and attorneys will look to determine who gets what is legal documentation. As such, make sure the ownership documents for your most significant assets reflect your life going forward.
Review and Update Guardianships
If a spouse is nominated as a guardian for a minor or someone with special needs, divorce and martial separation does not revoke that appointment. If the time ever came when a guardianship is necessary, the existence of a pending or finalized divorce would be a factor a court would consider during an appointment hearing but it wouldn’t be determinative. Again, leaving it up to a court official to decide who cares for a child or someone with special needs is never preferable. That is why experienced Ohio divorce and estate planning attorneys will make sure you take a hard look at who will care for those who depend on you when you are no longer able. A simple designation in a basic estate planning document can make a whole lot of difference to your children and wards.
Review and Amend Existing Trusts
Given the utility of trusts, from tax savings, avoiding probate, ensuring eligibility for government programs, and plain old peace of mind, they are becoming more and more prevalent within families. Trusts, however, are only one piece of a comprehensive estate plan and when used within the context of a married family, are highly tailored to the issues, concerns, finances, and benefits of marriage. Thus, when divorce rears its ugly head any effected trust must be reevaluated for effectiveness and potential martial asset division. Often a pre-martial trust does not survive a divorce, too much regarding a trust was created on the assumption of marriage. As such, sit down and read your trust with your Ohio estate planning attorney and ask yourself if your trust is actually accomplishing what you want it to.
The information contained herein is general in nature, is provided for informational and educational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal or tax advice. The author nor Baron Law LLC cannot and does not guarantee that such information is accurate, complete, or timely. Laws of a particular state or laws that may be applicable in a given situation may impact the applicability, accuracy, or completeness of the preceding information. Further, federal and state laws and regulations are complex and subject to change. Changes in such laws often have material impact on estate planning and tax forecasts. As such, the author and Baron Law LLC make no warranties regarding the herein information or any results arising from its use. Furthermore, the author and Baron Law LLC disclaim any liability arising out of your use of, or any financial position taken in reliance on, such information. As always consult an attorney regarding your specific legal or tax situation.