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How does my divorce affect beneficiary designations?

On Behalf of | Jul 5, 2022 | Family Law

You have a lot on your mind when you go through a divorce. You must deal with big issues such as child custody, property division and spousal support, so it’s natural that some things won’t be a priority at this time. But if you’ve designated your spouse as a beneficiary in one or more documents, you need to know how the divorce will impact them.

Revocation upon divorce

When two people are married, it’s common for one spouse to execute a will naming the other spouse as the beneficiary for some, or all, of their property. It’s also common for them to name the spouse as executor of their estate. But New York has a law that immediately impacts situations like these (and others) as soon as the divorce is final.

New York Statute Section 5-1.4 states that in many legal instruments, such as a will, designations of a spouse as beneficiary or fiduciary are automatically revoked once the divorce is completed. This doesn’t mean your will is no longer any good. Instead, the law creates a legal fiction, acting as though your ex-spouse predeceased you, so that they can no longer inherit or act as executor of your estate.

It’s not just wills which are affected by the statute. Other instruments, like trusts, life insurance policies and beneficiary accounts can be implicated. For some people, the automatic revocation may be exactly what they want to happen. For others, they may wish to retain their ex-spouse in their previous role as beneficiary. Whichever the case, speak to your attorney to ensure that the divorce creates the result you want to achieve.