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The effect of divorce on ex-spouses who are beneficiaries

On Behalf of | Apr 14, 2022 | Divorce

It’s quite common for one spouse to name the other spouse as their beneficiary – and not just in their will, but in many other potential instruments. But what happens to those beneficiary designations following a divorce? This question can be particularly important for high-asset couple with a diverse portfolio.

What happens to a will?

With all of the things you have to deal with during a divorce, it’s easy to forget that your will has designated your spouse as beneficiary for some or all of your assets. Following the divorce, you may no longer want your ex-spouse to retain that designation. California anticipates that you may not consider changing your will immediately and automatically revokes the status of your ex-spouse as beneficiary.

Should you die without changing your will, California treats the situation as though your ex-spouse had died before you. Any assets that would have been passed to your ex-spouse will instead be distributed as though you were intestate. The remainder of your will, not involving your ex-spouse, is not impacted by this law.

Non-probate transfers

Not all assets are passed on through a will. There are some other instruments which are also impacted by California’s revocation upon divorce. Among these are certain trusts, though not all. Rights of survivorship can be revoked, such as when spouses have joint tenancy over real estate. And some accounts, which are payable upon death and name the ex-spouse as beneficiary, will have the beneficiary designation automatically revoked.

Since California’s revocation laws do not cover all types of instruments, it’s best to seek clarification if there are specific types you are concerned with. Look for the assistance of an experienced professional to help you navigate this complex area of the law.