Getting divorced is a process nobody hopes to experience, yet plenty of people have to deal with it every year. Emotions will likely run high while you try to decipher what your new life will look like after the divorce is complete. You may be focused on negotiating a divorce settlement and a million other things.
However, you absolutely should not let your divorce’s impact on your finances skate by unnoticed. You’ll need to update quite a few financial documents and other items to make sure everything will still work as planned after the divorce is finalized.
Here are a few items you should make sure you consider so they don’t fall through the cracks. As always, it helps to consult a professional divorce lawyer or estate planner. Pros can help you consider every unique item that may need to be addressed for your specific situation.
1. Close All Joint Accounts
When you get divorced, the last thing you want is for your ex-spouse to gain access to your finances. Close all joint accounts that give both you and your joint spouse access and open new accounts in your name only.
“The divorce agreement usually requires parties to close all joint accounts within a short time frame. Be sure to follow through, or your ex-spouse will get all the funds in a joint account after you pass, and your heirs may not know to chase after those funds,” according to Rebecca G. Neale of Bedford Family Lawyer.
2. Transfer Real Estate and Titled Assets to the Appropriate Party
After the divorce is finalized, you’ll have to transfer real estate and other titled assets to the appropriate parties. This may require you to pay fees, but it makes sure the assets are owned by the correct parties.
3. Change Beneficiaries Everywhere You Have Them Listed
“Generally, a separation agreement pursuant to a divorce will state that the ex-spouse is not entitled to assets distributed pursuant to a will or to probate,” Neale says. “But some assets don’t go through probate. Those include joint bank accounts, retirement accounts, and life insurance benefits. After divorce, the parties should change the beneficiaries on all retirement accounts, life insurance, and ‘transfer on death’ accounts.”
It’s extremely important to change the beneficiaries on pretty much any policy or account that has your ex-spouse listed a beneficiary. Otherwise, the accounts or policies may end up going to your ex-spouse even if you don’t want them to.
4. Establish a Trust for the Benefit of Any Children
If you want your children to get the benefit of your estate after you pass but you don’t believe your ex-spouse will properly manage the money, setting up a trust may be a good option.
“Some divorced parents prefer not to have their ex-spouse manage the children's money,” Neale says.
“If that's the case, then they can have the life insurance proceeds left to a trust in the child's name, naming a trustee that the parent believes will responsibly manage the money.”
5. Draft a New Will
After you get divorced, chances are how you want your property distributed after your death will change, too. Normally, most married couples leave their estate to their spouse first. After you get divorced, this will need to change.
“I suggest having a new will drafted and executed,” Neale says. “This is not simply to take your ex-spouse's name off of the will, but to ensure that your children or your stepchildren (if you are getting remarried) will receive their intended inheritance.”
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6. Update Insurance Coverage
Most married couples purchase insurance policies together. Homeowners insurance, renter’s insurance, umbrella insurance, car insurance, and other policies will need to be updated. You’ll need to consider canceling old policies and getting new ones issued in your name only for the assets you still want to insure after the divorce.
7. Check Credit
While you should always keep an eye on your credit, you should definitely do so when going through a divorce.
Make sure you recognize all of the accounts on your credit reports from all three major credit bureaus.
Also check that your ex-spouse doesn’t have access to any accounts they shouldn’t have access to. You can view one free copy of your credit report from each credit bureau once per year at AnnualCreditReport.com.
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8. Consider Your New Tax Situation
After you get divorced, your tax situation could change drastically. Unless you’re well-versed in federal and state income tax rules, it may make sense to meet with a tax professional to ask how your tax situation will change.
You may need to update your W-4, a document that determines how much federal income tax is withheld from your paycheck, with your employer. This way, you can make sure you aren’t having too much or too little tax withheld.
9. Get a New Safe Deposit Box
If you had a safety deposit box both you and your ex-spouse used and had access to, make sure to properly allocate its contents. Then get a new box only you have access to.
10. Change Passwords on All Accounts
Finally, make sure you change all of your passwords across all of your accounts. Even if you don’t think your ex-spouse knew any of your passwords, changing them is a good security move to make in everyday life, too. Change passwords on everything from financial accounts to email accounts and everything in between just to be safe.
The Bottom Line on What to Do When Getting a Divorce
Getting divorced is a major pain, but it can be an even bigger issue if you don’t take care of the above items in a timely manner. While it isn’t fun to go through these tasks, you’ll be glad you did when you no longer have to worry about what could happen if you don’t.