It’s every divorcée and divorcé’s worst nightmare: an ex-spouse inheriting your hard-earned money after a bitter divorce.
When you marry someone, they automatically inherit your assets after you die. And that’s fine, as long as the relationship is a happy one. But what happens when things turn sour and they’re the person listed as your beneficiary. Will they still be entitled to your assets even after the two of you have divorced?
Short answer: no. And the law is very clear on this matter. After an annulment, dissolution, or divorce, any provisions in a Last Will and Testament that affect the ex-spouse become null and void, and the ex-spouse is essentially treated as dead as far as the will is concerned.
This law was recently reaffirmed in Carroll v. Israelson, when an ex-spouse fought to ensure that her niece and nephew benefitted from a trust set up for them (with Ms. Israelson as trustee) back when the marriage was still going strong. Though initially the trust was awarded, the Fourth District reversed this decision, saying that it clearly went against the law.
What it boils down to is this: divorce nullifies inheritance.
So if you are scared you’re going to need to make changes to your will because you are no longer married to the same person as when you first created it and don’t want them to get your money, fear not – Florida law has you covered.
That being said, there are still plenty of other good reasons why you might want to make revisions to your will after going through a divorce.
Why You Should Make Changes to Your Will after Divorcing
While your ex won’t inherit your assets under Florida law, that doesn’t mean that the money he or she was going to receive will end up going where you want it to go. Here are some reasons why revising your will after divorce may be a wise decision.
You’ve gotten remarried. Getting remarried means your new spouse automatically becomes your number one beneficiary unless you specify otherwise. Even if you want him or her to benefit in this way, it is often still a wise decision after two big life changes – divorce and remarriage – to take another look at your will and reevaluate everything. If you still feel the same way, great. But if not, now is a fantastic time to change things.
You want to decide how your assets will be redistributed to other family members. It’s wonderful that your money won’t go to your ex, but what if you want your brother to get everything now? Or your best friend? Or maybe you just don’t like the way the state would split up your assets and want control. By revisiting your will, you can make sure that everything is as you want it.
You want to give to a charity. Your ex isn’t getting your money, and you’re comfortable with the way you’ve already divided up the rest of your assets amongst your family and friends. Great. But now you have to figure out what to do with the money that had been designated for your ex. One option is to give it to a charity that you admire. The process isn’t a difficult one, but you do have to take the time and effort to legally add a provision to your will requesting this.
You want your ex to inherit. Though not particularly common, some people are okay with their exes inheriting even after they have divorced. Maybe the split was amicable and you are still friends. Or you have kids together and believe that he or she would be the best person to manage the money for them. You might even have a situation like the one described in the court case above, where the decedent had asked that a trust be created for his then-spouse’s niece and nephew. Just because things go south with your ex doesn’t necessarily mean that you want to cut their entire family off. Going to the trouble of specifically keeping this provision in your will can go a long way towards showing them you still care even though the marriage is over.
As with all things related to estate planning, what it comes down to is how much control you want over your finances after you pass away. Revisiting your will after divorce (or any major life change) with a trusted and experienced Florida probate lawyer provides you with the opportunity to reassess your priorities and plan for your family after your death so your intentions are carried out correctly.
About the Author:
Christopher Q. Wintter is the founder of Wintter & Associates, P.A. and a board-certified expert in Trust and Estate matters by the Florida Bar. With more than 24 years’ experience as a practicing attorney, he also serves as an instructor and faculty member for the National Institute of Trial Advocacy (NITA)—the nation’s leading provider of legal advocacy skills training to practicing attorneys—and has earned the AV® Preeminent™ rating with LexisNexis Martindale Hubbell. He was also selected for inclusion in Florida Super Lawyers for 2011 and 2012 in Estate and Trust Litigation.