According to some statistics, national divorce rates have dramatically climbed in the last decade. No fault divorce, internet dating and a shaky economy have all contributed to couples who were once inseparable to be willing to crawl through fire to extricate their lives from a “bad” spouse. Thankfully, in nearly every metropolitan area in America, there are lawyers ready, willing and able to help (if you have the money).
For many of these lawyers, though, the issue of a divorce estate plan is never considered. Unfortunately, this oversight has become very commonplace and, in fact, routine. Bluntly, most lawyers don’t even consider it.
Without a doubt, if you are in the midst of a divorce (or contemplating one) -or you’re a lawyer representing clients in divorce actions, please (for God’s sake), consider an estate plan. Want to know why? Consider this simple (and common example):
One sunny afternoon, Jane unexpectedly comes home from work early to find her husband, Steve, of 10 years in bed with the neighbor lady. After the shell-shock of the infidelity wears off, Jane files for divorce and seeks custody of their 3 children. Jane also asks for her half of the community property (the money the family earned over the last decade). Steve hires a lawyer and also seeks custody of the kids and his share of money and property. The divorce action goes on for a year when, all of a sudden, out of the blue, Jane has a heart attack and dies. Though her parents assume they will be in charge of her assets and remains, they’re wrong. Because the court has not ruled on the divorce action and she is deceased, the divorce is dismissed and (technically) Jane dies while legally married to Steve. Steve remains Jane’s surviving spouse. Steve has the legal right to control the disposition of her remains (funeral), gets the bulk of her property and ultimately the kids. Steve marries the neighbor lady, and she raises the kids. So much for Jane…
Okay, this is only an example and a simple, dramatic one. It doesn’t always happen – but, bluntly, this kind of thing happens occasionally. Could it have been avoided? Sure, certain parts. Jane may still have died – but – she could have done a simple (low cost) estate plan naming her parents and children as beneficiaries. The cost: between $500 and $750. A small price to pay for Steve not ‘winning.’