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How an estate plan may be changed by divorce

For Ohio residents who are going through a divorce, making changes to their estate plan might be one step in the process. If a person dies before these changes are made, the former spouse could get most of that person's assets, or additional paperwork could be necessary. In one case, a man died while honeymooning with his second wife. Although he and his previous wife had made an agreement about how their retirement plans would be divided, they did not complete the paperwork. As a result, new orders had to be drawn up.

In another case, a man's death two days before an Arizona divorce decree was final resulted in his wife getting 80 percent of assets in a trust, or about $14.4 million, while his family only received about $3.6 million. The man, who received the money in a settlement prior to his marriage, had signed a prenuptial agreement with his wife saying the money would remain his.

However, he eventually revised his trust so that 80 percent would go to her on the condition that they were married at the time of his death. When she filed for divorce after 10 years, he did not make the change right away, and under Arizona state law, the trust conditions remained as written since the divorce decree was not yet final.

It may not be legal to change some aspects of an estate plan until the divorce is final, so people may want to talk to a lawyer about what changes are possible and which ones must wait. They might have created a trust to avoid probate, but if it is a revocable trust, it might be possible to cancel the trust altogether or change the beneficiary.

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