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Divorce & Estate Plans – What Do I Need to Know in AZ?

What happens to my estate plan if I get divorced, and what rights does my former spouse have, if any, after a divorce? These are questions that come up a lot from clients we work with at Praesidium Law in Arizona. Our goal is to provide our clients with dynamic, proactive probate, trust, and estate planning services, so we will take a few minutes to address a couple of different divorce & estate plan scenarios here.

An Ex- Who Passes Away

A typical scenario that we see is that a decedent is divorced, but they did not update his/her will, trust, or beneficiary designations before passing away. The decedent’s family is concerned that the former spouse will be entitled to inherit because the estate plan was never updated. Or, on the other hand, the former spouse will be under the impression that he/she is entitled to inherit because the decedent never changed his/her estate plan.

Under Arizona law, a divorce decree automatically cancels any bequest to a former spouse and revokes the nomination of a former spouse (or his or her family) from any fiduciary rules, such as a trustee or a personal representative. This occurs as a matter of law whether or not the estate plan has been updated. 

Post-Divorce Life Insurance Scenarios

At Praesidium Law, our team has also witnessed several scenarios where spouses agree that post-divorce, one spouse will remain the beneficiary of the other’s life insurance or other pay-on-death accounts. The insured spouse assumes that simply leaving the name of the ex-spouse on the beneficiary form will suffice. Unfortunately, this will not work. The former spouse is not entitled to the life insurance. The decedent needed to update the beneficiary form post-divorce to avoid the affect of the revocation laws.

The only exception is certain plans that are created at work under the laws of ERISA. The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) is a federal law that sets minimum standards for most voluntarily established retirement and health plans in private industry to provide protection for individuals in these plans. In those cases, federal law will override state law, and allow the former spouse the right to the benefits not withstanding the divorce.

Divorce & Estate Plans – Things to Consider

Divorce & Estate PlansAfter divorce, it is very important to update your estate plan. Among the items to consider:

  • Updating beneficiary designations of life insurance, IRAs etc. This is particularly important if the divorce agreement or order requires one spouse to maintain life insurance for the other for a period of time.
  • Updating all joint accounts.
  • Creating a new will and/or trust.
  • Updating health care and financial powers of attorney.
  • Determining who should be the guardian of minor children if an ex-spouse cannot.
  • Determining who will manage the inheritance of children, particularly minors (so that the ex- doesn’t get control over it).


Other areas of consideration for divorced spouses can be discussed during a free consultation with Praesidium Law. Don’t put this on the back burner for too long after a divorce, it’s too important. Let’s schedule that free consultation now to discuss how we can help you. Please call 480.491.3216 or contact us online.

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