New documents such a powers of attorney, living wills, etc.?
After you are divorced, or sometimes even earlier, while you are separated, you need to think about executing some new documents that dictate what will happen in the event of your death or incapacity. Do you want your ex-spouse making decisions for you after you are separated if you end up incapacitated in the hospital? If the answer is no, don’t walk but run to get this taken care of! You will want to meet with an estate planning attorney to do a new will, power of attorney and advanced medical directive. An advanced medical directive will allow you to appoint someone close to you to make decisions about life preserving treatment if you are unable to do so.
It is generally best to wait to make changes to your beneficiary designations until after you have consulted with your divorce attorney. For those with minor children, maintaining some of your beneficiary designations “as is” until your children are emancipated is often a topic that will be discussed and negotiated as part of your settlement process. For those who work for the federal government it is very important to check your beneficiary designations after divorce and make the necessary changes, so that they are consistent with your wishes if you are not subject to an agreement or court order requiring you to name the other spouse as your beneficiary. The Virginia Code has a provision protecting against the situation where someone is divorced but forgot to remove their ex-spouse from a beneficiary designation which prevents the ex-spouse from benefitting. Federal law, however, does not have such a protection, and since federal law preempts state law, even if you are divorced in Virginia, if you work for the federal government, you will need to actually change your beneficiary designation to be certain that it will be honored. This is the best practice, of course, no matter where you work, since laws can change!
Author: Teresa S. Cole