Amicable Divorce? You Still Need to Update Your Estate Plan!

By: Washington State Litigation Lawyer Lisa M. Hammel

Getting a divorce is never easy — but it certainly is less stressful when it is done amicably. In fact, many couples decide that they don’t need the advice of counsel because they are able to agree on the division of assets and liabilities — and thus they proceed with filing pro se. Further, many couples remain friendly – and sometimes even more so – after the divorce, finding they actually get along better and like each other more outside of the confines of the marital relationship.

In these situations, it is often the case that the spouses do not change their wills or beneficiaries on non-probate assets such as life insurance after the divorce – reasoning that they still want the other person to inherit their estate or remain as the beneficiary on their policies. This is particularly the case when the couple have minor children that they have agreed to share custody of. However, in the State of Washington, failing to re-affirm or update your will and non-probate beneficiaries after the divorce renders those designations as invalid.

Pursuant to RCW 11.12.051, if your will is written to make your spouse a beneficiary upon your death, they will no longer receive this benefit after your divorce. Instead, the gift will lapse as if your spouse had predeceased you unless your will specifically states that the gift is to survive dissolution. In addition, if your spouse was designated as the Personal Representative in the will, this will also be invalidated. Similarly, pursuant to RCW 11.07.010, if a couple divorces, most non-probate assets will not pass to your former spouse even if the spouse is still the named beneficiary. As with a will, an exception to this rule occurs if the designation specifically states that dissolution of the marriage will not terminate the beneficiary status. An exception may also exist if the Decree of Dissolution specifically requires that the non-probate assets be maintained with the former spouse as the beneficiary.

Thus, if you intend to maintain your former spouse as the Personal Representative and beneficiary under your will, you need to update your will after the divorce to reaffirm those designations. Similarly, if you intend to have your spouse remain the beneficiary of non-probate assets, you need to resubmit the beneficiary forms with those designations following your divorce. Failing to do so will result in those assets being transferred to others whom you may not wish to receive the benefits, and could also result in expensive litigation between your former spouse and the unintended beneficiaries over the distribution of your estate.

The attorneys at Beresford Booth are available to help you with your estate planning and answer any questions you may have.

Beresford Booth PLLC (425.776.4100),

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