How can a divorce affect your will?
Updated: Sep 27, 2022
Estate planning can feel complex at times. You have many options to choose from, some of which may make more sense at different times of your life. Executing a will is an option many people take advantage of but it does need to be updated from time to time. A divorce is one of those occasions when you need to stop and consider its impact.
Revocation upon divorce
When two people marry, it’s very common for one of them to execute a will and name their spouse as the beneficiary for some, or all, of their assets. If they divorce at some later point down the road, it may not occur to them to update their will to remove their former spouse as beneficiary. Fortunately, New York recognizes this potential problem.
New York law provides that, when a divorce is finalized, any designation of the spouse as beneficiary is automatically revoked. This means that, even if you passed away immediately after the divorce is finalized, without updating your will, your ex-spouse will not inherit.
In spite of this automatic revocation, however, it’s still important to update your will. In the absence of any changes you make, any asset previously intended for your ex-spouse would be subject to distribution through New York’s intestate succession laws. As a result, you would no longer control how those assets are dispersed. Updating your will fixes this problem.
It’s important to note that there may be individuals who prefer that their ex-spouse retains a beneficiary designation, in spite of the automatic revocation law. If so, there are two options. First, a statement can be included in the final divorce decree which overrides the revocation upon divorce. And second, after the divorce is final, you can update your will and redesignate your ex-spouse as a beneficiary.