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RCW 11.12.051 and Your Divorce

The divorce process affects many parts of your life. Some of the ways divorce affects your life are obvious: divorce can affect your relationship with your children, your relationship with your in-laws, your financial circumstances, and a myriad of other areas of your life. Some of the ways divorce will affect your life are less obvious. One example of a less obvious affect your divorce may have is the way it can affect your will and other estate planning documents.

RCW 11.12.051 is the law that invalidates portions of the will that benefit a spouse after the marriage is terminated (unless you explicitly express other intentions). This means that if your will is written to make your former spouse a beneficiary upon your death, they will no longer receive this benefit. Instead, the gift to that person will lapse as if your spouse had predeceased you. In some cases (especially when the person had a secondary beneficiary in the case that the spouse predeceased the testator), this result is not far from what the testator intended. However, in other circumstances, it is far from what the spouse intended. Either way, it is important that you update to will to clarify your post-divorce wishes.

In many cases, beneficiaries of nonprobate assets will also be affected by the termination of a marriage. According to RCW 11.07.010, if a couple divorces, most nonprobate assets will not pass to the former spouse even if that spouse is still the named beneficiary. There are exceptions to this rule however. These exceptions include nonprobate assets that expressly state that the termination of a marriage will not terminate the beneficiary status of the former spouse and cases where the decree of dissolution requires that nonprobate assets be maintained with the former spouse as beneficiary.

Most attorneys recommend that you revisit your estate planning documents on a regular basis. This is especially important if you have a major life event – like a divorce. You may want to decide on a new beneficiary, or you may want to draft new estate planning documents designating your former spouse as the beneficiary despite your marital status.

If you have questions regarding how your divorce will affect your estate plan, or any other family law issue, please contact us with your questions.