It seems like every year after the holidays, you read about the latest celebrity filing for divorce. This year is no exception, with Jeff Bezos, CEO and founder of Amazon with a reported net worth of $137 billion (according to Bloomberg Billionaires’ Index), announcing an end to his 25- year marriage to MacKenzie Bezos. Statistically, divorce filings spike in January after couples make it through the holidays, then they peak in March and August.
Of course, it is common sense to seek an attorney’s advice before and during the divorce process to maximize your post-divorce net worth. There are three things, however, that you should do immediately after you read your newly issued divorce decree and either pop the champagne or dry the tears off of the paper:
1. REVIEW AND CHANGE YOUR BENEFICIARIES
If your divorce decree is thorough, it should state who will receive the marital assets, including investments, insurance and retirement benefits. You should not delay, however, in contacting the necessary advisors, agents or brokers to fill out the forms or take the steps necessary to change your beneficiaries. As shown in a 2009 Supreme Court case, your divorce decree will not necessarily prevent your ex-spouse from getting your benefits when you die if you never bother to make the appropriate changes.
2. CHECK YOUR HEALTH INSURANCE
Hopefully, the divorce decree has addressed who will be responsible for providing insurance for you and the children, but you should check for deadlines and whether forms must be completed for the changes to be effective. If you need to apply for COBRA health insurance benefits, for instance,you should apply within 60 days of entry of the order.
3. CHECK YOUR ESTATE PLAN
Check your estate plan to see if it should be changed, meaning double check your last will and testament or trust. Review the documents to see if changes are needed. If you ignore these legal documents and don’t make necessary changes before your death, it can lead to unintended results. Note that if you do not have an estate plan after your death, your estate will be handled according to the laws of intestacy — which may provide no inheritance for stepchildren. Make sure to review or complete the necessary legal documents so that your wishes will be followed.
During and after a divorce, conflict and emotional issues inevitably spring up. So remember, despite the turmoil and your desire to leave it in the past, you should make these changes or it could compound your grief.
Kathy Brown van Zutphen is an attorney licensed to practice law in Alabama and Mississippi. She focuses on the “elder law” areas of trusts, estates and conservatorships. Additionally, she litigates lawsuits and represents small business owners as part of her legal practice. Visit Kathy’s website to learn more: www.al-mscoastallaw.com. You can also reach her at her office: (228) 357-5227.