The MLO Minute: “The Importance of Revising Your Will and Estate Plan After A Divorce”
After couples finalize a divorce they are each anxious to move on with their lives and leave legal issues behind. However, this is a critical time to revise the respective estate plans, including wills, Powers of Attorney and all beneficiary designations, because neglecting to do so can have serious unintended consequences. For example, a Minnesota appeals court last year held that while the interests of a divorced spouse under a will generally is abated (eliminated) by the finalized divorce, the same is not necessarily true for heirs of that divorced spouse and for certain types of beneficiary designations.
In Estate of Tomczik, Mathew Tomczik executed a Will while married leaving his estate to his wife, Sara Headley. If Sara predeceased him and they had no living children, Matthew’s estate would pass one-half to his heirs at law and one-half to Sara’s heirs at law. Mathew and Sara divorced in 2019. When Mathew died in 2021, he had not written another will, had not remarried and had no children. His estate was opened by his family, attempting to identify his siblings as his heirs. Sara’s parents (the Headleys) claimed that under the terms of Matthew’s will, they were also entitled to inherit from his estate. The trial court disagreed, holding that since the divorce eliminated Sara’s interest as Matthew’s spouse, it similarly eliminated the Headleys’ interest.
On appeal, the Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed. The appellate court initially recognized that Minnesota statutes provide that, following a divorce, estate planning documents which name the spouse as a beneficiary are generally to be interpreted as if the former spouse was predeceased. However, because the legislature did not address bequests to relatives of the ex-spouse, and given the lack of any instruction in Matthew’s will regarding the heirs of a divorced spouse, the appellate court found that the surviving Headleys were, in fact, beneficiaries under the will.
Even though Pennsylvania and most states abate will provisions for a divorced spouse as well as most other (but not all) estate planning documents and beneficial interests upon divorce, the statutes are not always clear about novel situations such as those confronted in Tomczik. This result should give all divorced couples a cautionary note that following a divorce it is critical to revise estate planning documents to ensure that the true intent of the testator is respected and applied. Our firm is here to help. Click here to contact us today.