For many Michigan residents, the primary purpose of estate planning is to ensure that their loved ones are looked after, and that assets are passed down in the manner of one’s choosing. This process rarely includes making provisions for a former spouse. Even so, many people will unexpectedly leave their ex husbands or wives an inheritance. At the same time, those loved ones who were intended to receive that wealth might be shocked to find that they have very little chance of reversing that outcome.

This scenario occurs when there is a difference between what is laid out within an individual’s will and what is stated within certain account documents. When an investment, savings or life insurance account contains a designated beneficiary, that person will receive the assets held within the account or policy at the time of death. This is true regardless of what is stated within one’s estate planning documents.

This outcome is more common than many people believe. Often, individuals complete the beneficiary designation paperwork when an account is opened, then never revisit the subject. This can mean that one’s first spouse may still be listed as the beneficiary on a pension plan, life insurance policy or savings account. In the event of death, the former spouse might be gracious enough to hand those assets over to one’s current spouse or children. That outcome, however, is far from certain.

The best way to protect one’s loved ones from a negative outcome is to create a thorough estate plan that includes a review of beneficiary documents. By working with an estate attorney, it is possible to provide a plan that passes on accumulated wealth in a manner that is in line with one’s wishes. By including a review of all beneficiary designations, Michigan residents can avoid leaving a former spouse an unintended inheritance.

Source:, “Error in Planning Can Benefit the Ex-Spouse”, June 1, 2015

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