What You Need to Update after You Get Divorced

Forms You Should Update after Your Divorce Has Been Finalized

Divorce is an emotional process that often involves drastic changes in your life. You might be settling into a new home, creating a new schedule for your children, and focusing on your future. But in the midst of all of that, you can’t forget to update your personal documents (like your estate plan) and other records. Not updating them leaves you vulnerable to the possibility that your affairs may not be handled the way you want should you become incapacitated or pass away.
In this article, we’ll discuss some of the most important forms you need to update after a divorce, like your estate plans and financial documents, as well as who you need to inform of your separation.

Do I Need to Update My Estate Plans after Divorce?

It’s recommended that you update your estate plans after any major life event, including divorce, because it’s likely that your beneficiaries and/or agents have changed. The most important estate planning documents to update are your Last Will and Testament, Power of Attorney, and Health Care Directive because they address things like your assets and property, your personal health care wishes, and who your representatives will be in an emergency.
Updating Your Last Will and Testament after a Divorce
A Last Will is an estate planning document that you use to describe how you want your assets to be distributed after you pass away.
Although it’s not unheard of to keep your ex-spouse as your primary beneficiary in your Last Will, most people choose not to do so. In some states, filing a divorce revokes an ex-husband’s or ex-wife’s right to any gifts or bequests in your will, and it can also revoke their right to act as your executor.
Although you can amend your original will with a Codicil, it’s often best to create an entirely new Last Will and Testament with revised beneficiaries and executors. Most wills include a clause at the beginning that revokes all prior wills and codicils if you’re creating a new one, so it helps to ensure that the previous document will be nullified.
Many people choose to make their children their new primary beneficiaries (or a new spouse in some cases), but you can also choose to leave assets to friends, family members, or charities.
Tip: If you still want your ex-spouse to be the primary beneficiary or to act as the executor of your estate, then creating a new Last Will can help to ensure your recent divorce hasn’t revoked their inheritance or responsibilities.
Appoint a Guardian for Your Children
When one parent dies, even after a divorce, the other parent typically takes guardianship over minor children. However, it is important to review this section in your new will to make sure it aligns with your ex-spouse’s new will as well. You want to make sure that both of you are agreeing on the same guardian for your children in the (unlikely) event that both of you pass away at the same time.
If a parent with sole custody of their children dies, courts tend to favor the other biological parent as the new legal guardian, unless they deem the surviving parent as "unfit" for guardianship. Naming a guardian in your will can help to ensure that your children are taken care of by someone you know and trust.
Updating Your Power of Attorney after a Divorce
A Power of Attorney is a document that allows you to appoint an agent (attorney-in-fact) to make financial decisions on your behalf should you ever become incapacitated in the short- or long-term.
Most recently divorced individuals no longer wish to have their spouse act on their behalf as an agent or attorney-in-fact after a separation.
If your ex-partner was named as your attorney-in-fact in your Power of Attorney while you were married, and now you wish to name someone else to represent you in the event of your incapacitation, you will need to revoke their title with a Revocation of Power of Attorney document. You also have to notify them in writing to let them know their role as your agent has ended.
After you’ve completed the revocation process, you can create a new Power of Attorney and name a new attorney-in-fact. It’s common practice to ask the person you want to be your agent before naming them in your POA, but you are technically not required to do so.
Updating Your Health Care Directive after a Divorce
A Health Care Directive (also known as an Advance Directive or a Living Will) is a document that allows you to describe your preferred medical treatments and end-of-life care should you become incapacitated and not be able to express those wishes yourself.
To update your Health Care Directive, you will need to make sure that all previous copies that you may have given to your doctor or any agents are returned to you and/or destroyed. This ensures that the new directive will be the one that’s enforced. Once you have taken care of any previously existing copies of your directive, including any digital copies you may have stored on your computer, you can create a new one.
Again, you only need to update this document if your ex-spouse was listed as your agent or representative and you no longer wish them to be. If you want them to continue to be your proxy or if the original document named someone other than your spouse as the proxy, you can leave the document as is.
Ready to update your estate plans?

Managing Your Financial Documents after Divorce

After updating your estate plans, it’s important to think about any other beneficiary designations you’ve made for your ex-spouse.
For instance, you should go through your files and see who the beneficiary is for your life insurance policy or your health benefits. If your ex-spouse is listed in these plans, you’ll likely want to change it. This can be done by talking to the curator of the plans, i.e. your life insurance and health insurance providers, and letting them know you’re recently divorced and want to change your beneficiary. If you receive health benefits through your employer, you can sometimes just tell them the situation and have them file the appropriate paperwork for you.
Tip: Make sure you keep a copy of your final divorce decree or certificate somewhere safe and scan a copy to save to your computer. You’ll need it to change some of your benefit forms like health and life insurance.
You should also review your retirement accounts like any IRAs or your 401(k). Often, changing the beneficiary for these accounts can be done simply by requesting new documents from your bank and filing them as soon as possible.
You may want to consider creating beneficiary designations for payable-on-death (POD) bank accounts and transfer-on-death (TOD) brokerage accounts. These are estate planning tools that allow you to pass on large sums of money without going through probate. Many people set these up with their children as beneficiaries so they have quicker access to funds after the death of their parent(s).
It’s also good practice to take stock of your finances post-divorce to account for the likely decrease in your economic level. You’re losing an extra source of income, but many of your economic responsibilities (rent, gas, insurance, utility bills, etc.) won’t be disappearing. Many people create budgets or financial plans with accountants or financial advisors to lay out spending and financial goals for the future.

Do You Have to Get Your Last Name Changed after a Divorce?

If you took your spouse’s family name when you were married, you are not obligated to change it back, although many people still choose to do so.
If you do wish to change your name, you can either do so as part of the divorce proceedings (through a court order), or after the divorce is finalized. Going back to your maiden name is not impossible after a divorce is finalized, but it can be a little harder.
Some states don’t require court orders to allow you to change your family name after a divorce. Instead, they ask that you start going by your previous family name and request a name change on all of your other personal records.
Many people who choose to keep their married name after a divorce do so because they have children. It can be beneficial in some ways to have the same last name as your children as it can make certain things, like traveling with your children, a little easier.
Having a different last name than your children while traveling can sometimes complicate the process, so if you do choose to change your name but your children’s remain the same, consider creating a Child Travel Consent form or getting a court order custody agreement to show that you have permission to travel with your children without their other parent.
If you have changed your last name after finalizing your divorce, make sure you go through your records and have your maiden name reinstated. This includes things like phone and utility bills, your driver’s license, and even things like your social media or email accounts.
If your married name does surface on documents from time to time, you can request name changes on a case-by-case basis.

Do I Have to Tell People I'm Divorced?

While you are not required to divulge any personal or private information about your divorce from a social standpoint, there are still certain people who you may want to consider talking to in order to avoid any confusion or complications in the future.
For instance, if you have children, it may be prudent to inform your children’s teachers and/or principal, as they will likely need to be aware of custody arrangements, such as if you and your ex are alternating days when you pick up your children from school. You might also have to provide the school with new contact numbers if you’re no longer sharing a house phone.

The Importance of Planning

Divorce can be a trying and emotional experience, but it’s important to keep your personal records in order as best as you can and find a new balance.
By staying on top of all of your forms and effects, you’ll be able to ease through this transitionary period knowing your finances and your estate are protected and handled in a way that reflects your new life and preferences.