Updating Your Estate Plan After Divorce or the Loss of a Spouse

Updating estate plan after divorce or loss of spouse

Although not always thought of as a part of financial planning, estate planning is a crucial aspect of financial management, ensuring your wishes are carried out effectively.  Life changes such as divorce or the loss of a spouse necessitate careful review and updates to estate plans.  The term estate plan broadly covers your will, any trusts and beneficiaries on any financial accounts.

The end of your marriage changes many things.  Even if you had a will or trust in place during your marriage, it likely won’t make sense anymore given your change in circumstances.  Although it’s probably not the first thing you want to deal with, it is important to ensure your estate plan aligns with your current needs and wishes just in case something happens to you.

Key Components of Updating an Estate Plan

Your estate plan generally refers to your will, any trusts, and other legal documents that relate to your death or incapacitation.  In many cases, married people tend to set up their wills to leave everything to their surviving spouse and to name their spouse as their power of attorney and healthcare proxy.  Since you no longer have a spouse, you obviously need to change who will receive your assets, but also who can act on your behalf if you are no longer able (this is done in the power of attorney and healthcare proxy).

In addition to updating these documents, be sure to revisit the beneficiaries on any financial accounts you have, like your 401k, IRAs and life insurance policies.  The beneficiaries on these accounts trump anything that is stated in your will and assets move straight to the beneficiary without requiring a probate process.  If you previously listed your ex-husband as the beneficiary on these accounts, be sure to change it or he will get that money if anything happens to you.

You also need to think through guardianship for minor children if necessary, considering suitable guardians.  As a single parent, if something should happen to you, you want to ensure that you have a plan for your children.  This can be one of the most difficult areas to address, but if the worst happens you will be glad that you did.

Finally, if you have a trust in place, be sure to review the beneficiaries and the asset distribution to make sure that it still makes sense.  Depending on your financial situation, a trust may be a strategic tax vehicle so make sure you understand how things change now that you are single.

Communicating Changes Effectively

Since estate planning documents are legal documents, it is always advisable to work with an attorney when drafting and updating them.  A reputable estate planning attorney will not only help you draft the required documents, but also advise you on your options and help you avoid any pitfalls. 

Once you have the updated documents in place, you want to communicate the relevant changes with the important people in your life.  Let your family know of your wishes, to avoid confusion or disputes.  Also be sure to inform the executors and trustees of their roles and responsibilities.

Move Forward with Confidence

There are many things to think about as a newly single woman.  Embrace life changes by proactively updating your estate plan to reflect your current circumstances.  It’s not the most glamorous task, but you can secure your legacy by ensuring your estate plan accurately reflects your wishes.  Taking this step will allow you to move forward with confidence, knowing that your estate plan is up-to-date and aligned with your goals.

Updating your estate plan after divorce or the loss of a spouse is a critical step in ensuring your financial affairs are in order. By understanding the impact of life changes, addressing key components of estate planning, and communicating changes effectively, you can navigate these transitions with confidence and peace of mind.

Sara Zuckerman, CFP®, CDFA® is the founder of Reset Financial Planning located Scottsdale, AZ and serving women across the country with a focus on helping women who find themselves suddenly single in mid-life, align their financial resources with their values to plan for the next chapter of their lives.


If you are interested in learning about how I can help you take charge of your finances as a newly single woman, please contact me at  or schedule a free 20-minute consultation.


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Disclaimer: This article is provided for educational, general information, and illustration purposes only. Nothing contained in the material constitutes tax advice, a recommendation for purchase or sale of any security, or investment advisory services. We encourage you to consult a financial planner, accountant, and/or legal counsel for advice specific to your situation. Reproduction of this material is prohibited without written permission from Reset Financial Planning, LLC, and all rights are reserved.