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What you should know about divorce and naming beneficiaries

Florida residents may be interested to learn that the family of a deceased woman is embroiled in a lawsuit with her former in-laws over her home, which is worth about $200,000. The in-laws claim they have the right to inherit the house even though before she passed away she was legally divorced from her husband.

In 1996, when she was married, she drew up a will and in it named her husband as the beneficiary to her estate. Among other things, her estate also included the $200,000 home, which had been a family heirloom that was in her family for numerous generations. She didn't stop there, however, but also elected to name her father-in-law as the secondary beneficiary.

The woman and her husband divorced in 2007. Once the divorce was finalized, her husband was no longer her legal beneficiary and was automatically struck out of her will. As it happened, however, her then father-in-law whom she named as secondary beneficiary on the 1996 will was not cut out of the will.

After she passed away about five years ago, her ex father-in-law furnished a copy of the 1996 will and demanded that he be allowed to lay claim to his ex-daughter-in-law's house. Her family attempted to thwart his claim to the house by claiming that she had drafted a newer will that superseded the 1996 will. When asked to present it, though, they failed to do so.

Consequently, the court ruled in the ex-father-in-law's favor. It is imperative that if a couple goes through a divorce, new documents such as wills, financial power of attorney's and other important document with beneficiaries be replaced by updated documents that supersede their previous versions. Understandably, divorce is a trying and emotional time for many, and updating beneficiaries may the last issues on one's mind. However, the consequences of neglecting to update beneficiaries following a divorce can result in legal complications.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "After Divorce, Separate Your Estate Plans Too," Liz Moyer, Feb. 20, 2015

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