When the judge says "the dissolution may enter," your marriage is legally over. But it can be a mistake to put off the changes you can now make to protect your assets and insure your wishes for the future are known. Of course first and foremost, you should follow the orders entered by the court. However, unless you are ordered to do something else, you should consider doing the following once your divorce is finalized:
- Close any remaining joint bank accounts after confirming that all outstanding checks have cleared.
- Close any remaining joint credit accounts or take your spouse off the account if it is one you plan to keep. A well-drafted settlement agreement will have language to prohibit you from making charges on each other's credit. But enforcing your agreement means more time in court. So it's better to be safe.
- Do not put off having a Will prepared and executing it. Although a divorce doesn't completely invalidate a Will you had during the marriage (it merely revokes bequests to your spouse), it's a good idea to review what you want at this point. Some agreements may require you to have certain provisions in your Will. You are likely to want to make different provisions for the benefit of your children and other relatives after a divorce with a new Will and possibly a Trust for the benefit of minor children.
- Have a Healthcare Power of Attorney and Living Will prepared. Your spouse was presumed to have the authority to make healthcare decisions for you in the event you were not able. Once you are single, no one has such authority unless you put it into an official document. No one knows what level of care you would want unless you think it over and put in into a Living Will. This is a good time to consider who you trust with such decisions and to talk with those people about what you would and wouldn't want in the event of a serious illness or injury.
- Change the beneficiaries on your retirement plans and bank accounts if you had designated your former spouse. If you die before doing that, your benefits will go to your former spouse even though you are now divorced. The divorce decree does not automatically change any of those documents or plans. You may need a copy of your divorce judgment to show your employer or plan administrator to do this.
- Make sure your life insurance complies with any requirements of your divorce judgment as to amount of benefit and beneficiaries. Once you have complied, you are free to make changes to any other insurance you have as you wish.
- Notify your employer of your divorce if you need to change your medical coverage. If you have been providing medical coverage for your spouse, the employer will send notice to him or her of the option to elect continued coverage known as COBRA for up to 36 months. If your spouse was covering you, you may want to elect such continued coverage, join the plan your employer offers or sign up for coverage under the ACA "Obamacare." A divorce is what is called a "terminating event" which allows you to change your medical plan outside the normal enrollment period.
- If any motor vehicles are being transferred as part of your divorce, be sure to wait until title is transferred before cancelling any insurance on the other owner. All title holders can be sued if the driver causes injury or damage so the insurance should cover all owners.
- If your former spouse has transferred title to real estate to you, you may remove your former spouse from the homeowners or liability insurance once title transfers.
- If you asked for a name change as part of the divorce, you can get a document known as a "Certificate of Dissolution of Marriage" which simply has the date and parties to the divorce and the change of name. You can then use that to have your social security card reissued and use both to change your accounts, driver's license, car registration and insurance, credit cards, passport, voter registration, etc. You may then want to file a Certificate of Change of Name in the Land Records of any town where you own property.
Brown, Paindiris & Scott LLP can help you with Estate Planning issues following your divorce as well as real estate transactions and other advice.