Spouses who are facing divorce or marital separation might wish to consider their estate plans. When a spouse dies, the property might pass to the surviving spouse (if it is titled in joint names), by beneficiary designation, by will or trust instrument, or under the laws of intestate succession (for those who do not have a will) or statutory share (for spouses who have been cut out of the will). There is an interaction between the probate laws that govern the distribution of property upon death, and the marital property laws that govern distribution of property between divorcing spouses. Estate planning is an important consideration before, during and after a divorce.

The probate laws of Pennsylvania automatically revoke certain beneficiary designations and provisions of a will or trust that would benefit an ex-spouse after a divorce. However, these state laws do not apply to most employer-sponsored retirement and life insurance benefits. Federal law may require spouses to name each other as beneficiaries of employer-sponsored retirement and life insurance benefits until a divorce is final, unless the beneficiary spouse signs a consent form to waive the right. And, after a divorce, even a signed settlement agreement might not be effective to revoke a beneficiary designation. That’s why experienced legal help is needed to coordinate an effective estate plan with a marital separation or divorce.

Estate planning is also important for people who are engaged to be married or newly married. Newlyweds may want to submit beneficiary designations to their life insurance companies and retirement plans, place property or bank accounts in joint names, write new wills, or make other plans to provide for their spouses after their deaths. Estate planning may require a pre- or post-nuptial agreement to protect family businesses, professional practices, or premarital property in the event of death or divorce. An estate plan, including wills, trust instruments, and beneficiary designations, should be coordinated with the prenup to ensure a harmonious transition and avoidance of taxes or litigation upon the death or divorce of the spouses.

Pollock Begg works closely with, and makes referrals to, estate planning attorneys who are knowledgeable and experienced, in order to craft comprehensive solutions for our clients. Often, accountants and financial planners are involved to provide their areas of expertise.

Call our team today for a consultation about estate planning issues in connection with your marriage, marital separation or divorce.

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