The Post-Divorce Financial and Legal To-Do List

 Photo Credit: edar,  Pixabay

Photo Credit: edar, Pixabay

Blog written by: Jim McKinley
jim@moneywithjim.org | moneywithjim.org

Divorce is typically a long process that’s full of paperwork, meeting with lawyers, and other legal undertakings. Once your divorce is final, you’re ready to finally relax and be done with it all. However, there are a few more steps you need to take to tie up any financial and legal loose ends from your married life.

Steps You Can Take on Your Own

If you want to change your name, that’s a good place to start. You’ll need to change your name on your social security card, driver’s license, bank accounts, and insurance policies. Don’t forget to alert creditors of your name change.

Cancel or suspend all joint accounts. This includes bank accounts and credit cards, including all store credit cards. If you don’t, your ex-spouse could run up charges on credit cards or overdraft a bank account, and you could be held responsible for repaying the debt. It could also harm your credit score. Usually, the balances need to be paid off immediately in order to cancel the account. If you can’t pay the balance to cancel the account, you can suspend the account so that no future charges can be made.

Once you’ve closed joint accounts, you’ll need to open new accounts in your name. “Depending on the situation, it may make sense to apply for new credit cards before you cancel joint accounts,” suggests Divorce Magazine. For example, you may need to use a credit card as a small loan to get back on your feet after the divorce. Besides new credit card accounts, you’ll need to open new bank accounts, investment accounts, and more. Make a list of all of the accounts you had while married and replace them as soon as possible.

Consulting with a Lawyer

Changing the beneficiaries on your accounts is perhaps one of the most important steps to take after your divorce is final. Typically, it’s a straightforward process that can be done with a simple form. Without changing beneficiaries, your ex-spouse could inherit your assets when you pass. Some experts suggest also creating a new living trust and naming the trust as the beneficiary, especially if you have minor children. Otherwise, if your children are named the beneficiaries and are minors when you pass, the court may name your ex-spouse as their guardian, which means he or she may have control over their assets.

Update or create a financial power of attorney and a health care power of attorney. Assign someone as the executor of your estate and list who you’d like to receive your property and assets. Don’t forget to re-title assets in your name. For example, if you owned your house with your ex-spouse, you would need a quitclaim deed to remove his or her name from the title. Quitclaim deeds are an ideal and effective way to transfer ownership of property when the property isn’t being sold, so no money is involved. Before signing or accepting a quitclaim deed, consult with a qualified attorney. Also, speak with an attorney regarding updates to your will and changes in beneficiaries.

Look for a New Living Space

In the event that the marital home must be sold or that you no longer wish to live there, you’ll need to start looking for a new place to live. In the interest of time and to expedite the process, it might be worth looking into a short-term rental until you can get your bearings. Many apartment complexes offer 6-month leases. This will give you a chance to find a space of your own with time to look for a long-term alternative.

Regardless of whether you choose an apartment or buy a house, you’ll need to move your belongings. Consider hiring movers to help you quickly and efficiently get your possessions from point A to point B. Hiring professionals will also save you the awkward, potentially contentious experience, of having to see your ex more than is necessary.

Meeting with a Financial Advisor or Accountant

As soon as you can, meet with an accountant for a new tax projection based on your income and deductions. You may need to change your withholding, pay more or less estimated taxes, and change your investments. You don’t want to owe money next tax season, nor do you want to overpay too much in taxes. Also, meet with a financial or investment advisor to evaluate your investments. Investments that made sense when you were married may no longer be smart choices.

The list of what you still need to do may seem long and overwhelming, but focus one task at a time until you’ve accomplished them all. Prioritize the list and take on the most important steps first, such as renaming beneficiaries and choosing a new power of attorney. Completing the to-do list will provide you with assurance that you have control in this new chapter of your life.