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The importance of updating your estate plan after divorce

It's essential to review your estate plan whenever a significant life event happens to you or someone in your family. You'll want to determine if any modifications are necessary to make sure that your plan reflects your current wishes.

Divorce is a life event that can require a number of modifications. You likely don't want your ex having power of attorney or other fiduciary authority over your estate. Chances are, you don't want them to be one of the primary beneficiaries of your assets, either.

California probate law does prevent people from inheriting assets from a deceased ex unless the deceased spouse reaffirmed their wish for their ex to inherit something after the divorce was final. Nonetheless, it's wise to make your wishes clear -- whatever they are -- to help avoid a court battle over your estate.

What if you included your stepchildren in your estate plan? Many people become close to their stepchildren over the years and even help raise them. When that's the case, it may seem natural to want to leave them something after you're gone.

California law doesn't automatically nullify those gifts as designated in an estate plan after a stepparent divorces the children's parent. In at least a couple of cases dealing with this issue, though, the courts determined that the deceased stepparent's wishes prior to the divorce -- and not updated after it -- likely no longer were the same when they died.

In one case, an appellate court ruled that "when a testator provides for his spouse's children, he normally intends to exclude children of an ex-spouse after dissolution, unless a contrary intention is indicated elsewhere in his will."

In another case, a different appellate court noted that in determining what to do, it could also look at whether the stepparent and stepchild continued to have a relationship after the divorce and determine from that what the deceased stepparent would have wanted.

As noted, by updating your estate plan after your divorce and making your current wishes clear, you eliminate the need for a court to try to determine what you wanted. You also save your current and former loved ones the stress, time and expense of going to court.

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