Last column I addressed what would happen if your will leaves everything to your spouse, but you later divorce and never change the will. Idaho law prohibits a person from receiving the assets of an ex-spouse just because he or she was named in a will created prior to the divorce. However, this law does not mean you can rely on the State of Idaho to protect you from estate planning problems when there has been a divorce.
Take the following example. A divorce decree awards “the home” to the ex-husband. The decree does not identify the home by legal description or even by address. Nothing in the document allows an outsider to know which property is “the home.”
If the decree does not include a legal description to specifically identify which property is “the home,” it is not much use to establish the ex-husband is now the sole owner. There is still only one document that claims to show who owns the specific property the parties called “the home.” That document is the deed, and it still shows both parties as the owners of the home!
Years go by and the ex-wife passes away. If the ex-husband wishes to pass on the home to someone at his death, he may have a very difficult time doing so. As far as anyone can tell, the ex-wife still shows up as a co-owner on the deed.
This problem could have been fixed at the time the decree was issued, or shortly thereafter. But as life goes on, and circumstances change, those options disappear.
There may be a way to still accomplish his wishes, but it will be much more difficult (and, likely expensive). When there is a major event in your life or the life of your family, it is important to see what impact it will have on your estate plan. Otherwise, the result may be very different from what you intended.
© 2016 Steven J Wright