The following is provided for informational purposes only and is not, nor should it be construed as, legal advice.
  
After finalizing a divorce, the former spouses may be worn out from all of the paperwork and deadlines that were required of them and are just ready to get on with their lives.  So, it may be tempting to put off tying up the loose ends that should be done after a divorce.  However, it is critical that certain items be completed as soon as possible if they are applicable to a party’s situation. The following list includes some items that often require follow-up after a divorce:
  
• Obtain a certified copy of the decree signed by the judge.  While you may need the certified copy for other matters, the most fundamental issue is to make sure that you are divorced!  Even if you were present in court and heard the judge grant your divorce, you will want to make sure that you have a certified copy of the decree which shows that the judge actually signed your decree and that it was entered in the county’s records. 
  
• Obtain a certified copy of any Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) that was signed by the judge awarding you an interest in your former spouse’s retirement plan; then make sure that it has been served on the Plan Administrator for the retirement plan and accepted by the Plan Administrator.  Delay in submitting a QDRO to a judge or delay in having it accepted by the Plan Administrator can result in a forfeiture of what you were awarded.
  
• Ensure that your former spouse executed a deed for any piece of real property that was awarded to you and that it has been recorded in the records of the county in which it is located.  If you fail to do so promptly, the other party may encumber that property with a lien, even unintentionally, such as by failing to timely pay income taxes.  Or, if you later want to sell the property, the sale could be delayed or terminated if the title company is not satisfied due to the lack of a deed from the former spouse being on file in the county’s real property records. 
  
• Change any beneficiary designations that you have previously made that designated your former spouse as the beneficiary of assets such as bank accounts, life insurance policies, and retirement plans.  If you pass away without doing this and do not have an alternate beneficiary designated, the asset will pass to your estate which can possibly result in the asset passing to a person who you would not have intended to receive it or a delay in your heirs receiving it.  Even if you still want your former spouse to be a beneficiary, you must re-designate him as your beneficiary to show that you still intended for him to receive the funds even though you were divorced.  Otherwise the designation that previously designated him as your beneficiary prior to your divorce will become void and the asset will pass to your alternate beneficiary or, if none, to your estate with the potential for the problems described above.
  
• Follow-up to ensure that your former spouse obtained or maintained insurance on his life for your benefit as the former spouse or for your children if your divorce decree required this.  Calendar a time at least annually (or per the terms of your decree) to make sure that it is still in effect. 
  
If you are the party required by the divorce decree to obtain or maintain insurance on your life for the benefit of your minor children, immediately set up a trust establishing the terms for the trust such as the specific powers and duties you want to confer on the trustee for the child, the duration of the trust, and how the proceeds will be distributed to your children.  A trust will allow you, for example, to set up separate trusts for each child so that the proceeds are placed in trust from the outset equally to each child or to set up one trust for all your children with no obligation to spend the funds equally on the children until the youngest child reaches a certain age and then distributed equally to each child after that time. 
  

• Review and change the terms of your Will to make sure that your estate will now pass in accordance with your wishes if you already had a Will naming your former spouse as a beneficiary.

Resolving these matters as soon as possible after a divorce is so important.  The amount of time required to do so is nominal, especially in relation to the benefit to be gained by doing so.  Yet, some people postpone taking care of these items and then they or their heirs pay dearly later.  After going through all the work and expense of a divorce, protect the rights awarded to you in your divorce decree by reviewing your decree carefully and making sure that you have tied up all of the loose ends as soon as possible.

© 2013 Mary Knapp Nolan
  
For more information, please call 281.359.0100 or see the CWMPK website at www.cwmpk.com.