You just spent months going through the divorce process to divide all of your assets and debts. Whether this took you months or years, you’re probably exhausted. But are you done? Let’s make sure. This guide will assist you in ensuring that all of the property awarded to you in the divorce is taken care of.
1. First, is Property Awarded to you retitled just to you?
While you were married, it’s likely that a lot of the marital property was in both your and your ex-spouse’s names. Once you are divorced, you will want to ensure that the property awarded to you is solely in your name.
- For real property (houses and land), a Special Warranty Deed can be signed by your ex-spouse to transfer their portion of the home to you – something needs to be filed in the property records to effectuate this transfer and remove your ex
- For motor vehicles, your ex can sign the Certificate of Title to you, if it is owned outright, or a Power of Attorney to Transfer Motor Vehicle can be signed by your ex-spouse to transfer their portion of the motor vehicle to you.
- For financial accounts, take the Divorce Decree to the financial institutions to remove your ex’s name. They may have specific paperwork that your ex needs to sign as well. Provide that to your ex to ensure he or she is removed as an owner and as a signer on all accounts awarded to you.
- For personal property, (household items, furniture, and the other “stuff” that you were awarded), the Divorce Decree is sufficient to show others that the property is yours. It is key to get these items into your actual physical possession quickly post divorce to make sure they are not “lost”, “stolen”, “sold”, or otherwise disposed of.
- For debts, reading this guide might be too little too late to transfer a debt OUT of your name. That debt is likely a contract between you and the financial institution loaning the funds. A divorce decree can only do so much to interfere in that relationship between you and a financial institution who was not involved in the divorce process. However, if your ex-spouse was ordered to pay a family debt, but your name is on that debt, the only way to ensure the debt might not be your liability if your ex-spouse fails to make payment is to have the Court order the debt to be refinanced in your ex-spouses name. If this was not done, you might be on the hook to make payment (or have your credit affected) if your ex-spouse fails to make payment. If this has become an issue for you, our office can assist you with an Enforcement action to enforce the provisions of the Final Decree requiring your spouse to make payment and recoup any money you had to pay because of their failure to pay.
2. Second, ensure that a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) was submitted for required retirement account transfers.
If a retirement account was divided in your divorce, it is very likely that you need a QDRO to divide the retirement account. Most financial institutions that manage these accounts have specific forms to use to separate these accounts upon a divorce. Not only does this form need to be prepared correctly according to your decree, it is a separate court order that needs to be signed by the Judge and issued to the plan administrator. The plan administrator will then roll the separate portion into a separate account, and the owner of the separate account can then decide whether to leave the funds with the administrator, roll the funds into another qualifying account, or withdraw the funds. We recommend you work with a financial advisor in making this decision, as it is very likely that you will be responsible for taxes and/or penalties if you cash out any portion of your qualified retirement funds.
3. Third, Review (and change) your Beneficiary Designations.
This is an easy way to make sure the bulk of your assets are distributed as you wish upon your death. Many assets transfer directly to your selected beneficiary (and outside of your estate) depending on a beneficiary designation, payable on death, or even joint ownership with rights of survivorship. This is one very important reason to check these beneficiary designations post-divorce is to ensure your ex is not your listed beneficiary, or worse, still a joint owner of any accounts.
Examples of property with beneficiary designations are your retirement accounts, life insurance, annuities, and transfer on death designations on bank accounts. Updating your beneficiary designations to ensure the proper people receive these types of property upon your death is important to ensure your ex-spouse does not mistakenly receive your life insurance proceeds because of a failure to remove him or her as your beneficiary.
*keep in mind that your Decree may require you to maintain life insurance or another asset in a specific manner to cover life insurance or property division details. Please review your Decree to ensure changing your benefits or designations does not run afoul of your specific requirements.
4. Fourth, check on your estate plan.
Do you have a Will, Powers of Attorney, HIPAA releases, a Trust, or Guardianship designation? If so, once you are divorced you should review these. You may need to update these documents to remove your ex-spouse as a beneficiary and as an executor, trustee, or agent.. If you have decided you need to revisit your estate plan, reach out to our office to set up a consultation to discuss revising your estate plan!
5. Last, ensure that you have changed passwords and removed your ex-spouse from all accounts awarded to you.
Chances are while you were married your ex-spouse had login information to most of your accounts. Upon divorce, you will want to make sure to change any passwords they might know to make sure they no longer have access to your accounts. This includes bank accounts, social media, and subscription services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. It is also key to make sure that your accounts are not synching in any manner – think Google Drive, cloud services, iPhone backup, etc. Nothing says divorce like a surprise Facebook status you didn’t know you wrote!
The family law and estate planning attorneys at Hanshaw Kennedy Hafen, LLP are here to assist with any problems you are having related to divorce or estate planning. Give us a call today to schedule a consultation!