A couple prepared wills leaving all of their assets to each other. The husband’s father was the beneficiary if they both died. The couple subsequently divorced. The woman allegedly prepared a new will, which she gave to her neighbor, leaving her estate to her brothers. That will has not been found. After the woman died, her ex-husband produced the will from their marriage. Although the divorce precluded the ex-husband him from inheriting from her, his father was still considered a valid beneficiary. Courts have ruled that the will from her marriage controls and that the former father-in-law will receive her estate. The New York Court of Appeals will hear her family’s appeal.
1. Most states have laws treating a divorced spouse as a pre-deceased beneficiary of a will, trust, insurance, and retirement plan. Those laws do not affect the contingent beneficiaries.
2. Divorced individuals should immediately update their wills and beneficiary designations as soon as possible during the divorce process. This is more imperative for those without children.
3. My policy is to retain my clients’ original documents, send them copies, and urge them to notify their designated executor of the location of the copies (which have my name on them).
4. In desperate times, leaving a copy of the will in the refrigerator is always preferable to giving the original will to a neighbor even if it ends up smelling like rotten vegetables, spoiled mayo, or Green Goddess salad dressing.
Photo by Mark Brewer