Going through a divorce or a dissolution of a civil partnership is a major life change. Divorce lawyers are responsible for helping their clients to navigate the legal side of ending a marriage or civil partnership, including separating finances, dividing property and agreeing any future maintenance payments.
Of course, there’s a great deal more for newly divorced individuals to consider. Ending a marriage or civil partnership is likely to involve a significant change of circumstances, including moving home, adjusting to a new budget and navigating custody arrangements if there are children involved.
In the midst of all these overwhelming changes, newly divorced individuals often don’t think about ensuring they have their legal affairs in order in terms of future planning.
If you are a legal professional who supports clients through the divorce or dissolution process, you might wish to highlight the following considerations to your clients as part of your support package.
Making or updating a Will
Getting divorced or dissolving a civil partnership is one of the significant life changes that will automatically invalidate parts of any Will that has previously been previously made.
After divorce or dissolution, any parts of a Will that mention the individual’s former spouse or civil partner will become invalid. This means that a former spouse or civil partner would no longer be able to act as an executor of the Will or inherit anything from the Will. However, all other parts of the Will (including other executors and beneficiaries) would remain legally in place.
In practice, most wills need to be completely updated following a divorce or dissolution. This is especially the case with wills that have been written for a couple as mirror wills. For example, a Will a client has written with their former spouse or civil partner that shares all joint assets between both sets of in laws on the second death is no longer likely to be appropriate.
If the client hasn’t already done so, making a Will in the wake of a divorce or dissolution would ensure that their wishes were known should the unexpected happen.
Appointing legal guardians for children in a Will
If the client and their former spouse or civil partner have children together, they will also need to have an important discussion about who should be appointed as legal guardians for those children in their Will. This decision may be different to the decision they previously made during their marriage or civil partnership.
Legally speaking, if one parent were to die unexpectedly, custody of the children would usually pass to the other parent. However, it’s important to have an agreed legal guardian in place in the unlikely event that the children were to lose both parents. Ideally, this decision should be come to jointly, and some clients may benefit from mediation support, and certainly legal advice, during these discussions.
Considering powers of attorney
If your client already has a power of attorney in place that names their former spouse or civil partner, this is something they will need to update. Generally speaking, the client is unlikely to want their former spouse or civil partner to be able to act for them in situations where they are no longer able to act for themselves and will wish to appoint another trusted individual instead.
In many cases, clients will not have any existing powers of attorney documentation in place. The period after a divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership might be a good time to consider making a Lasting Power of Attorney.
When the client was married or in a civil partnership, it’s likely that they shared joint assets with their spouse or civil partner such as bank accounts and properties. After a divorce or dissolution, clients are likely to be solely in charge of their own financial situation. They may find it reassuring to use a Lasting Power of Attorney to appoint a trusted individual who could act as their attorney should it ever be required.
Considering powers of attorney
Powers of attorney are important documents for anyone who wants to ensure their loved ones would be able to make decisions on their behalf should they no longer be able to do so.
They might be a more obvious requirement for older clients, especially if the clients are buying a home they plan to retire to. However, powers of attorney can be put in place at any age and provide valuable peace of mind. They can be a very beneficial addition to any individual’s future plans, especially if they grant the power to manage both health and financial affairs.
Advance Statements and Advance Decisions
The term ‘next of kin’ has no real legal significance, but it is still often understood to have legal meaning. Your client may be unsure about where they stand in terms of ‘next of kin’ after their divorce. Part of their concern here may be about who would have the right to support them and/or make medical decisions about their care should they be involved in a health emergency and be unable to make those decisions themselves.
Working with a specialist private client solicitor to put together an Advance Statement or Advance Decision document would allow your client to formally name the individuals they would trust with these responsibilities. This kind of document can provide a great deal of peace of mind, as well as being invaluable in an emergency situation.
Next steps for supporting a client
We always welcome conversations with other professionals about how we can help them to support their clients.
If you’re thinking of guiding a newly divorced client in the direction of additional legal support to ensure they are prepared for the future, please get in touch. We’d be very happy to discuss how we could help you help them.
How Roche Legal can help
We are reassuring experts who can help you with a wide range of legal matters. Please get in touch if you need legal support with:
- Trusts and Estate Planning
- Probate and Estate Administration
- Contested Probate and Will Disputes
- Powers of Attorney
- Court of Protection matters
- Presumption of Death Applications
- Missing Persons Guardianship Applications
Need further help?
If you would like to discuss these issues further, please contact us.