Many couples create estate plans together as a way to ease the process should anything happen to either person. This estate plan can be the last thing on their minds as they go through this process. A divorce in New York automatically cuts the former spouse out of the will, but it does not affect other beneficiaries. This can lead to benefits and assets going to the former spouse's relatives instead of alternative beneficiaries.
A current New York court case involves a woman who divorced her husband in 2007 and never remade her will. She died in 2010, and her 1996 will named her husband and his father as the primary and secondary beneficiaries, respectively, of all of her property. This included a $200,000 Clayton home that her family owned for generations.
The New York Fourth Department Appellate Division upheld the 1996 will in a 2014 ruling by a 4-1 decision, but the family is taking the case further in March to the state's highest court: the New York Court of Appeals. This case illustrates the importance of updating a will after a divorce. It can also be a good idea to use a different attorney if both parties created their estate plans together.
Estate planning should be a big part of any major life event, including births, deaths and divorces. An attorney can assist in modifying existing wills or trusts or creating a new one. Courts consider each case based on its individual merits, so it is important to ensure that all of the documents are complete and concise. Other things to consider when creating a plan are any retirement accounts or life insurance policies separate from the will.