Do You Need to Revise Your Beneficiary Designations After a Divorce?
You may not realize it, but you may own assets that do not pass as part of your regular Florida estate plan. A common example of this is an intangible asset, such as a retirement account or life insurance policy, where you previously signed a “designation of beneficiary” form. Such designations override the instructions in your will, so even if you periodically update your estate planning documents, you should also be careful to review your beneficiary designations to make they are consistent with your current wishes.
Florida’s Revocation-on-Divorce Law
One problem we often see in Florida estate administration is where an individual named their spouse as the beneficiary of an asset, the couple subsequently divorced, and the asset holder failed to execute a revised beneficiary designation form. The account holder then passes away, leaving the asset to the ex-spouse, even if that was never their intention following the divorce.
In fact, this problem is so common that the Florida legislature actually passed a statute some years ago that automatically voids a spousal beneficiary designation upon divorce. So let’s say you named your current spouse as beneficiary of your IRA. If you later obtain a divorce in Florida, the judgment of divorce automatically voids the pre-divorce beneficiary designation. Even if you never file a new beneficiary designation form, the law will act as if your ex-spouse “predeceased” you for inheritance purposes. Of course, you are perfectly free to sign a new form post-divorce again naming your spouse as beneficiary, which is enforceable. And in some cases, the terms of your divorce settlement may require you to maintain your spouse as the designated beneficiary of certain assets.
What State’s Law Applies to Your Assets?
Also note that Florida’s revocation-upon-divorce rule does not necessarily apply to assets governed by the laws of other states. This issue came up in a recent federal lawsuit in Orlando. A Florida resident passed away in 2016. Five years earlier, the man was married and lived in New Hampshire. During this time he purchased an annuity from a life insurance company, which named his then-wife as beneficiary.
The couple later divorced but the ex-husband never changed his beneficiary designation. After his death, the life insurance company paid the proceeds of the annuity over to the ex-wife. The ex-husband’s Florida probate estate then filed a lawsuit in federal court, arguing the couple’s divorce automatically invalidated the original designation, meaning the annuity proceeds belonged to the estate.
The ex-wife moved to dismiss the case, arguing among other points that Florida law did not apply to this particular beneficiary designation. The judge overseeing the case denied the ex-wife’s motion, at least for now. The ex-wife based her argument on the terms of the couple’s divorce decree, which is subject to New Hampshire law. But the judge noted the “governing instrument” here was the annuity contract between the ex-husband and the insurance company, so any argument regarding Florida’s revocation law would need to be based on that document.
Get Help Updating Your Florida Estate Plan
You should always undertake a periodic review of all of your estate planning documents, including beneficiary designations. An experienced Fort Myers estate planning attorney can help. Contact the Kuhn Law Firm, P.A., today at 239-333-4529 to schedule a free consultation with a member of our estate planning team.