There are all kinds of guidelines for recovering emotionally from the dissolution of your marriage. But what about your finances? What steps should you take to safeguard your credit, establish new credit, protect your dependents, etc.? I can tell you horror stories about the errors people have made (or rather the remedial actions they have failed to take) after the breakup of a relationship. Many attorneys neglect to provide their clients with the must-do task list that they should. So make a note because here it is:
The Most Important Fiscal Steps To Take After Your Divorce Is Finalized.
Update your will (or write one). The “I love you will” is likely now inappropriate as you complete your divorce. While you are at it, I suggest a new living will and health care surrogate. If you are confident that your ex is still the right person, at least give someone else the right to fire and replace him in case someone close to you sees him doing something that is not in your best interests.
Update your insurance policies and beneficiaries. It is critical that your life insurance company has the correct beneficiary on record, your current choice of beneficiary, which has likely changed since your divorce. Imagine you’re just been through a traumatizing divorce from someone you now despise, and you die unexpectedly in a car accident. No matter what your decree says, the insurance company will look solely at the beneficiary form in their records to determine who is to receive the insurance benefits in the event of your death, and that’s the person you now dislike most in the world. Not a good plan.
While you’re at it, update your retirement plan (e.g. 401K or 403B) beneficiary designation. Same issue as life insurance above.
And update all of your bank accounts for payable on death contingencies. Recall when you opened those bank accounts? You designated whom to pay the account over to in the event of your death. The banker explained that your completed “pay on death” provision would operate to sidestep the probate court if you died, effectively leaving the funds in those accounts to your spouse (at the time) without her having to wait for the court system to probate your will. Same issue as above.
Close joint bank accounts. It’s time to disconnect and joint accounts are an important way to do this. Keep in mind that, if you need an account to pay joint expenses, you can identify one remaining joint account and be sure that both of you have access to those bank statements. This can be used for expenses of the children, the marital home, etc. Keep in mind that any monies deposited into this account can be removed by your spouse. The benefit is that you can both receive information on checks written or debits subtracted, you can both talk to the bank, if necessary, and thus there’s accountability for each of you.
Remove your spouse from credit cards on which he should not be listed. Are your credit cards joint, meaning you jointly applied for credit, or is one of you an Authorized User of the other’s card? When your marriage is dissolved, be sure you have your own viable credit cards that are yours to use only. And if your ex is an authorized user, be sure to cancel those Authorized User’s cards immediately. No matter who spends the money, the liability belongs to the Account Owner, who is, in this case, you.
Did you restore your maiden name? Then follow through with changing your name on all important documents and accounts, your social security card, driver’s license, passport, and bank and retirement accounts. This will consume some time, but it is important that you are consistent in the name in which you own assets. It is hard enough to avoid identity theft. It is harder when assets are owned in different names. To avoid confusion, go ahead and do it all at one time by using your first name, middle initial, and maiden name. If you do them all the same way, then it will be easy to spot when someone is trying to open an account in your name. Each government agency has their own process, so be sure you know what is required by each to avoid multiple trips.
Ensure that all final divorce tasks are completed, like transferring retirement funds (by QDRO), transfer of child support and/or alimony (by IWO or direct deposit), and recording of quitclaim deeds. Your attorney will likely do the quitclaims. Make sure they are recorded. Your financial advisor should be the one to follow through on the transfer of investable assets as he will have access to the “receiving account.” Have your permanent checking accounts already in place when this initial paperwork is completed in order to avoid changing deposit accounts later.
Update all care providers, banks, lawyers, employers, insurance companies, etc. for both yourself and for your children with new contact information for both you and your ex-spouse. Do this by sending a form letter to all of your service providers. Be sure your doctors and your dentist all have your new health insurance information.
Consult a financial planner. You should already have worked out your budget but it may be time to revisit it now that all the facts have shaken out and the final judgment has been entered. Be sure your financial planner is a Certified Financial Planner™. The advice you received in your divorce process may not hold water now that the details have been finalized.
Arrange to finish paying any professionals still unpaid. Ensure you understand if you are paying with joint assets or with assets that you received in the divorce. Bottom line, are you paying 50% of the bill or the entire bill?
Obtain copies (certified, if necessary) of all important documents. Place one set of certified copies in your safe deposit box in case of emergency.
Make working copies of the parenting plan and the final judgment. Scan all documents from your divorce into your computer (with a back up to the cloud – you never know when your laptop will crash) so you have copies to send as needed. Then store them out of the way; hopefully, you won’t ever need them again.
And my last tip is actually not a fiscal one, but it is arguably the most crucial. While financial considerations are important, caregiving for your children is critical. Will divorce counseling help you co-parent with your ex? If so, research possible providers in your community, or consult your collaborative divorce team for recommendations. Will parenting classes enable either or both of you to parent better? Are there classes offered in your community? Your collaborative facilitator can likely give you guidance on what is available in your community. Do your children need transition support in their new situation? Again, your facilitator can be a resource for this.
Make sure to take these steps to maintain financial success once your divorce is finalized and you and your loved ones will never have reason to regret the results of your inaction.
Also check out our advice on refinancing after divorce!
About this week’s authors: Joryn Jenkins and Robert Kokol.
Joryn, family attorney and Open Palm Founder, began her own firm here in Tampa after a 14-year career in law while also serving as a full-time professor in law at Stetson University. She
is a recipient of the prestigious A. Sherman Christensen award, an honor bestowed upon those who have provided exceptional leadership to The American Inns of Court Movement. For more information on Joryn’s professional experience, take a look at her resume.
Robert A. Kokol, CFP, CDFATM, AEP, MBA, is the Principal and Founder of Divorce Financial Planning LLC. He has a long history of helping individuals plan and correct their finances. If you’d like to reach Bob, call him at (813) 943-4854 or email him at email@example.com.