As a State Bar Certified Specialist in family law matters in Arizona, I often find myself advising clients who have just finished a divorce on what their next steps need to be now that the divorce is over.
One very important step is to change your beneficiaries. Change your life insurance beneficiary. Change your 401(k) beneficiary. Check who the beneficiary is on all of your banking and financial accounts. For many retirement accounts, if you fail to change your beneficiary, you may unintentionally leave your assets to your ex-spouse. The irony of fighting so hard in the divorce to make sure that you received 50% of the assets, only to unexpectedly die and leave all these assets to flow back to such ex-spouse is painful just to consider.
With a divorce now finalized, it will be important to review your estate planning documents (wills, trusts, medical powers of attorney, etc.) with an attorney who focusses on these areas of law. In our firm we have several attorneys who have significant experience assisting clients in these areas. As a result of the divorce case, the world is likely now a very different place than it was when the prior will was signed, or trust created. Putting it bluntly, you may not want your ex-spouse to have your medical power of attorney. While many of these instruments would no longer treat the ex-spouse as listed in the documents, it remains important to identify a replacement person to be the beneficiary, or to hold the medical power of attorney, or to be the trustee, etc.
Make sure that you have medical insurance in place. If you have been covered as a spouse on your now ex-spouses insurance, you are no longer covered as you are no longer a spouse. You may be able to qualify for COBRA coverage, but this must be put into place right away or you may forego your right to such coverage. Shop around, as coverage and prices vary greatly.
Make sure that any transfers are fully completed. If you were awarded real estate, make sure that your ex-spouse signs a quit-claim-deed. If you were awarded a vehicle, make sure this is titled only in your name. If you were to divide retirement accounts, make sure that the QDRO is approved by the Judge and fully implemented. Getting these issues taken care of quickly avoids the risks of trying to do these years down the road when the other party is not locatable, or when documentation has disappeared and is no longer available.
Work on establishing a budget. You will need to adjust your cost of living. Prior to the divorce (in most cases) you and your spouse had one house payment and two incomes. Now, you have a house payment, possibly money owed to your attorney, possibly spousal support or child support, your share of any marital debt, and yet you only have half of the income that you are used to living on. Before your finances get out of hand, get on a budget and learn to live within your (newly adjusted) means.
Work with your tax planner. You may need to adjust your withholding to account for your change in expenses, you payment or receipt of spousal support, and the fact that you will no longer be filing jointly. By making sure that you are not over-withholding, you may be able to improve your cash flow. By making sure that you are not under-withholding, you may be able to avoid a large unexpected tax bill when you are struggling to rebuild your financial life.
If you are involved in a divorce, legal separation, or annulment case or other family law case, and if you have determined that you need experienced legal representation, please call 800-899-2730 and ask to speak with Douglas C. Gardner, or visit our website at www.yourarizonadivorcelawyer.com.