Men and women who are contemplating a separation or divorce have unique needs. Some divorces are very friendly and you can still count on your soon-to-be ex, but in most other situations, you may find that you rethink many aspects of your life, including where you wish your assets to go should something happen and who you can trust.
Accordingly, it is essential to update your estate planning documents. This should be done:
- To ensure that someone trust-worthy will be able to make medical and financial decisions for you in the event that you are incapacitated;
- To prevent your soon-to-be-former spouse from receiving all of your assets; and
- To give you as much control as legally possible over how your children or any embryos created during infertility treatments will be taken care of and provided for in the event that you pass away.
The less trust-worthy your spouse is, the more important it will be that you take action to protect yourself (and your children). To help you get safely through this time of transition, you should consider creating:
- A Will. If you are married and die without a Will, your spouse would generally be entitled to 100% of your estate. However, if even if you are still married you are generally permitted to leave your assets to whomever you wish if you write a Will. Most people think that your spouse may still be entitled to a third of your estate (the “elective share” under N.J.S.A. 3B:8-1), but the statute contains many exceptions which typically allow you to completely cut out your soon to be ex. This is because the elective share statute requires that at the time of death the decedent and the surviving spouse must not have been living separate and apart in different habitations, they must still been cohabiting as spouses and not under circumstances which would have given rise to a cause of action for divorce or nullity of marriage to a decedent prior to the decedent’s death.
- An Advance Directive for Health Care/Health Care Power of Attorney. This will allow you to control who will make medical decisions for you if you are unable to make them for yourself, helping to ensure that your wishes will be achieved. For example: would you want the person you are divorcing to be able to make decisions about your medical care and whether or not to remove life support, or would you want this decision to be made by a relative or close friend?
- A Financial Power of Attorney. This will allow your agent to use your money to pay for your medical bills, attorney fees connected to your divorce, and potentially take action to do anything else needed for your benefit. Depending on how this document is structured, it can take effect as soon as you sign it, so that a trusted friend, relative, or financial services professional can help you through this stressful period. The divorce process is a stressful one and often brings with it a slew of new responsibilities and challenges. This document can allow you to outsource emotionally-difficult tasks such as selling your marital home and managing the transition of your assets from joint to separate accounts while you focus on making the big decisions, attending court, and adjust to life as a single parent. This document can also prove invaluable if symptoms of anxiety and depression (which can often be triggered by major life events) set in and you become unable to manage your affairs. Being proactive and creating a plan for dealing with your responsibilities can help make your daily life easier and more manageable during this difficult time.
Speaking with an estate planning attorney can help you better understand your options and create the best possible plan when preparing for challenging circumstances.
Written by: Jessica J. Sauer, Esq. & Kevin A. Pollock, Esq., LL.M.