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How divorce and remarriage could impact your Colorado estate plan

Whether the proverbial ink has just dried on your divorce decree or you have been divorced long enough to already enter into a subsequent marriage, you should read this. After the turmoil of a divorce, one of the last things on your mind is probably the impact that it will have on your estate plan, but, you must understand what will happen if you don't review and redraft those vital documents.

You may assume that the intestacy laws work in Colorado like they do in some other states, that your will, trust, life insurance policies, real estate titles, account designations and other estate planning documents, will remain unchanged by a divorce. After all, the two things have nothing to do with one another, right? That assumption couldn't be more wrong, actually.

What's the worst that could happen?

Under Colorado law, namely Colorado Revised Statute 15-11-804(2), a divorce or annulment of your marriage will revoke any bequest or designation made to your former spouse, as well as any bequest or designation made to a relative of your former spouse (except children that the two of you share biologically or via legal adoption). The same goes for appointing a now-former spouse or former in-law to be a health care or financial power of attorney on your behalf or to be your estate's personal representative, executor, administrator, conservator, agent or guardian; that designation is effectively revoked by a divorce.

The impact of a dissolution or annulment of your marriage doesn't stop there. Property that you shared with your spouse that included a right of survivorship (as joint tenants or community property) is automatically converted, upon a divorce or annulment of your marriage, into a tenancy in common. In the somewhat unlikely event that your divorce or annulment is legally cancelled or nullified, or that you remarry the same spouse in the future, the revocation reverses, and all goes back the way it was originally intended.

Impartial application

It is very important to note that Colorado law doesn't discriminate on whether you have a good relationship with your former spouse or a contentious one: if you divorce or have your marriage annulled, your estate plan will be automatically and inexorably altered. Your intent to provide for your former spouse or relatives - including any former step-children whom you did not formally adopt - is irrelevant in this instance. If you want those people to inherit property or serve some capacity in your estate plan, you must proactively encompass those wishes in a new estate plan.

If you have divorced without drafting a new estate plan, then Colorado's intestacy laws will apply to any assets you leave behind. This means that, rather than your former spouse and beloved step-children or in-laws inheriting your assets, the state will dictate, after the probate process, where your belongings go after you're gone.

You don't want this to happen, do you? Then don't let it. An estate plan should be revisited after any big life event, but in the case of a divorce, it is absolutely crucial that your current wishes be communicated to avoid any legal entanglements or encumbrances posed by the state's probate laws. Estate planning is one area of your life where you definitely don't want to "do it yourself," though; trying to muddle your way through with a cookie cutter form can lead to disappointment and legal woes for years to come after you pass away. To get started on a new estate plan, or to revise one drafted during a prior marriage, contact an experienced estate planning attorney today.

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