5 Ways to Update Your Estate Plan After a “Gray” Divorce

Long Island Elder Law and Estate Planning Lawyers

If your marriage ended later in life, you could be part of the “gray” divorce trend, which can have a drastic effect on planning.
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Deciding to end a marriage as an older adult is increasingly common. If your marriage ended later in life, you could be part of the “gray” divorce trend.

AARP reports that Baby Boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, are the generation with the highest divorce rates. Divorce among older adults in the United States has been on the rise since 1990. By 2019, 36 percent of divorces involved people 50 and older. The demographic trend of individuals 50 and older ending their marriages is known as gray divorce.

Gray Divorce Impacts Finances, Retirement

Gray divorce can affect your finances and plans for retirement and long-term care. Whether you have spent years building a family with someone and have raised children together, or this is your second marriage, divorce can present financial as well as personal challenges. Age-related complications of divorce can include retiring, managing a chronic condition, or supporting an adult child’s education.

According to AARP, the standard of living declines for both men and women who divorce over 50. However, the financial toll is greater for women. Women, on average, experience a 45 percent decline in standard of living compared to 21 percent for men.

Older people have less time to recover from the financial effects of divorce and rebuild their nest eggs. As a result, the dissolution of a marriage can be more costly for older individuals.

Changing Your Estate Plan After Divorce

The end of a marriage often changes your desires and expectations for retirement, as well as long-term care and estate planning. After a gray divorce, it’s a good idea to take steps to update your estate plan.

Here are five ways to modify your estate plan after divorcing later in life.

1. Change Beneficiaries

Most people select their spouse as a beneficiary for accounts and insurance. This can include the following:

  • Retirement accounts, such as 401(k) plans and IRAs
  • Payable on death (POD) bank accounts
  • Life insurance policies
  • Annuities with death benefits
  • Investment accounts

Sometimes, divorce settlements require keeping a former spouse as a beneficiary. However, most people do not want their former spouse as a beneficiary.

New York law provides that, in many cases, ex-spouses are automatically removed as beneficiaries. But is wise not to rely on this, as it not only does not always apply, but could cause delays in collecting benefits.

To remove your ex-spouse as a beneficiary, you’ll need to go through each account or plan and update the beneficiary. For instance, you could change the beneficiary of your life insurance policy to your children or another family member, such as a sibling. To be thorough, review and update every account or policy that you hold.

Because payable-on-death accounts and insurance policies transfer outside probate or wills, you’ll need to revise your beneficiaries even if you change your will.

2. Create a New Will

When making a will, it is common to name one’s spouse as the primary beneficiary. If you already have a will leaving property to your spouse and want to change it, you’ll need to create a new will. You can name new beneficiaries, such as children, other family members, and friends. As with beneficiary accounts, New York law, in most cases, automatically revokes will provisions naming a spouse as beneficiary. But that does not necessarily cover all will provisions, such as appointments of in-laws as fiduciaries. It would be wise to review the entire will upon divorce.

3. Execute New Advance Directives

In addition to your will, review your advance directives, which name someone else as a decision-maker. This person can act on your behalf if you can no longer make decisions for yourself, such as if you are seriously ill in the hospital.

There are two main types of advance directive. A power of attorney concerns financial matters; a health care proxy involves medical decisions. A finalized divorce may revoke the appointment of your ex-spouse, but you should review your appointment of successors. Your wishes may have changed, you may have designated in-laws or other relatives of your spouse, or you may have no successors designated at all.

4. Begin Estate Planning

Many people delay estate planning. According to’s 2024 Wills and Estate Planning study, two-thirds of people do not have a will or any estate planning document. If you have not yet started estate planning, divorce presents an opportunity to think about what matters to you and create a plan for your future.

When you work with an estate planning attorney, you can develop an estate plan that suits your needs. Strategies such as trusts can help you avoid probate, making the process of wealth transfer easier for your family. A will makes sure your loved ones know what you’d like them to have.

Hospitals and doctors often turn to the spouse as a surrogate decision-maker. As mentioned above, divorced people can benefit from creating a health care proxy that names specific individuals to make decisions.

When you work with an estate planning attorney, you can also discuss strategies to afford long-term care, such as purchasing long-term care insurance or applying for public benefits.

5. Plan for Long-Term Care

Divorce may have changed your expectations for retirement. Since the end of a union can take a financial toll, you may need to create a new plan to ensure you remain comfortable and can afford care as you age. Reflecting on where you would like to live as you grow older and what kind of care you might need can help you develop a plan.

People plan for long-term care in a variety of ways, including asset protection planning with an elder law attorney.

Speak to Your Estate Planning Attorney

Whether you are making changes to an estate plan or creating one for the first time, your attorney can provide support. In addition to drafting a will and power of attorney, the experienced estate planning and elder law attorneys at Kurre Schneps can offer advice on navigating your planning needs.

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