I'm Single, Now What Estate Planning for the Newly Single

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Theresa Clancy

Several weeks ago, I broke my left-hand ring finger. Since that time, I have not been able to re-wear my wedding ring. Not wearing a wedding ring has left me wondering if the public views me as a single woman.

It has been decades since I was single. However, during the days surrounding my husband Mike's heart attack, there were many hours that I believed I would be single again. At that time, I thought about all the new responsibilities I would have to undertake as well as the emotional toll this change would exact. 

Being newly single would mean that I would be the only breadwinner. Taking on all of my family's financial responsibilities seemed daunting, particularly when three of my kids (Paul, John, and Maureen) would all be in college at the same time. Of course, there would also be the newly single parental responsibilities. Single parenting seemed even more daunting than any of the financial responsibilities. 

Luckily, Mike made a full recovery and my contemplation of living as a newly single person ended up being a theoretical exercise. But serious contemplation of being a widow gave me some insight into the difficulties experienced by the newly single. I am sure many of these hardships are endured by those newly single through death or divorce.

Change is hard. The loss of a spouse and divorce are the two most difficult of all life changes. So, when it comes to estate planning, I advise new singles to take a moment to breathe. I ask them to make sure that they are taking care of the physical, emotional, and mental needs for themselves and their kids. Once health and family needs are addressed, the newly single person can focus attention on estate planning. 

In the case of the death of a spouse, an existing estate plan will likely just need to be updated. For those who do not have an estate plan, now is the time to create one.

In the case of divorce, I recommend contacting an estate planning attorney at the beginning of divorce proceedings. In Illinois, the law automatically revokes any portion of a will, trust, or power of attorney that includes an ex-spouse. However, that is only once the divorce is final. Until the divorce is final, estate planning documents are valid as written. 

An estate planning attorney may recommend that during the divorce pendency you change some of your existing estate planning documents to limit your estranged spouse's powers and inheritance. The attorney may also advise you to wait to change other estate planning documents. If you do not have an estate plan when starting a divorce, I recommend you begin to create one and then complete the plan once the divorce is finalized. 

An attorney may also make some estate planning recommendations to include in a divorce decree such as mandatory ex-spouse life insurance for the period of time the children are minors (to ensure child support continues in the case of a death). 

Once the divorce is finalized, the estate plan should be re-examined and updated.  Any necessary divorce decree, provisions can be incorporated into the estate plan. Updating the estate plan will also include an examination of beneficiary designations (IRAs, 401Ks, etc.) which sometimes are overlooked post-divorce.

Some of us may be capable of handling estate planning decisions right after a divorce or a spouse's death, which is great. Others of us may take a little longer.  That is perfectly understandable. Take a moment to catch your breath. Then create or update your estate plan to give yourself and your family more certainty in life.

To create or update an estate plan, please contact me today.

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