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How Divorce Affects Your Michigan Estate Plan

Divorce is a complicated process of unwinding not just a marriage, but of property and other legal obligations. There are many legal issues to consider. For example, how does a divorce affect your will or other estate planning documents?

Divorce (Partially) Revokes Your Will

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Married couples typically have language in their wills naming the other spouse as executor or beneficiary of their estate. Michigan law assumes divorced couples intend to revoke such language. Therefore, unless the couple’s divorce settlement (or any related agreement) expressly states otherwise, any gift or appointment made to an ex-spouse under a will is automatically revoked upon divorce.

Let’s say you named your spouse as sole beneficiary and executor under your will. Upon divorce the language benefiting your now-former spouse is revoked. This does not revoke your entire will, only those parts dealing with the former spouse. In practical terms, the probate court would treat your ex-spouse as if he or she died before you.

Michigan’s revocation law does not just apply to wills, but any document naming an ex-spouse to act in a “fiduciary or representative capacity,” such as a conservator, guardian, or trustee.

One thing to keep in mind is Michigan law only revokes language in wills or other documents signed prior to the divorce. You are perfectly free to make a new will post-divorce naming your spouse as executor or beneficiary. The law will not invalidate or otherwise affect such language.

Estate Planning Cannot Override Divorce Terms

As a matter of law, your ex-spouse has no claim on your property after you die except as provided in your divorce settlement. This can still have significant estate planning implications. For example, the division of marital property often requires one former spouse to name the other as beneficiary of a life insurance policy, retirement account, or other annuity. Such required assignments overrule any contrary provision in your estate plan.

Something else to consider: A divorce case may last several months or years depending on the issues involved. But you do not need to wait until a divorce is final to make certain changes to your estate plan, such as making a new will or trust. A qualified Grand Rapids estate planning lawyer can advise you on the best way to protect yourself before, during, and after a divorce. Contact the Law Offices of David L. Carrier, P.C., to schedule a consultation at one of our convenient locations today.