Estate Planning in Wisconsin Pending Divorce

A friend of the family died recently at age 54. He and his wife had lived apart for several years; they were planning to divorce, perhaps had already started a divorce action. As with most divorces, a variety of problems plagued the marriage, but a big one was his wife’s excessive spending.

My friend had started to move on with his life. Like most people in those circumstances, his time and attention were focused on establishing housing, working out continuing financial obligations, dealing with his emotions, navigating co-parenting, building new relationships. Changing his estate planning documents was not among his priorities. It may have occurred to him, but it was buried under the mound of other tasks demanding his attention. And of course he did not expect to die at 54.

My friend did not change his life insurance beneficiary designation; his life insurance proceeds were paid to his wife. He did not change his retirement account beneficiary designation; those proceeds too were paid to his wife. He did not change his will, which left everything to his wife, including the substantial investment accounts he had recently inherited from his parents. His children are at the mercy of his spend-thrift wife; no one expects that there will be much left for them as they reach adulthood.

My friend’s case might sound extreme, but these sad situations do happen. While most financial events (such as division of property) occur when the divorce is finalized, you should consider making changes to your estate planning documents as soon as you have made the decision to separate your life from your spouse’s. Evaluate what will happen to your property if you die while the divorce is pending, and make sure it is what you want. Under the laws of the State of Wisconsin, your spouse will continue to have a right to and an interest in some of your property. But you can take steps to ensure that, to the extent possible under Wisconsin law, your property will be distributed as you wish at your death.

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