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Links between family law and estate planning

Divorce can be a hectic time in the life of a Maryland resident. There are so many things to do, papers to gather and decisions to make. It can feel overwhelming, and it often feels as if the list of divorce to-do items never shrinks in size. During this period of time, estate planning is an area that is often overshadowed more pressing matters. That said, failing to address this important family law matter can lead to an extremely undesirable outcome.

As an example, consider a scenario in which a couple goes through a divorce but in which neither spouse changes his or her beneficiary designations. If an account lists a former spouse as a beneficiary that decision will stand, even if the marriage has ended and all marital wealth has been divided. Forgetting to make these changes can result in a former spouse inheriting many of the very assets that were divided during the divorce.

Another potential problem lies in incapacitation documents. In most cases, spouses will designate one another to serve the role of decision-maker in the event of incapacitation due to illness or injury. This arrangement works well while the marriage is functional, as most people have discussions with spouses about the type of care they want in such an event. However, very few people relish the thought of their former husbands or wives having that same level of authority over their medical or financial affairs after divorce has taken place.

As soon as a marriage is clearly headed for divorce, it is time to begin considering the appropriate changes to one's estate plan. In some cases, changes cannot be made until the divorce is final, but that does not mean that the paperwork cannot be drafted and ready to sign when the time comes. Each scenario is unique, and the best way for Maryland spouses to address estate planning and family law is to ask the attorney handling each area how to proceed.

Source:, "PLANNING MATTERS: Estate planning and divorce", Leanna Hamill, Nov. 6, 2015

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