You have just received a court stamped copy of your Judgment from your San Diego divorce attorney. Everything has been resolved – custody, visitation, child support, spousal support, division of assets and division of liabilities – there is nothing left to do, or is there?In a recent arbitration case, Husband who had been through a bitter divorce, did not change the beneficiary on his IRA, which listed ex-Wife as beneficiary. When he died 10 years later the IRA money went to his ex-Wife. Husband’s Widow sued to collect on the IRA money. The arbitration panel denied Widow’s claims. The panel found that Husband opened an IRA in 1994. Husband and Wife divorced in 1999. Husband remarried several years later. Husband was an attorney who made his own business decisions. Husband changed the beneficiaries on several of his other accounts, but not the IRA account. Although Husband probably did not intend for the IRA money to go to his ex-Wife, it was Husband’s responsibility to change his IRA beneficiary.
This arbitration case highlights how important it is to follow up on items stemming from your divorce. Not doing so may result in your ex-spouse receiving monies you do not want them to receive, and could also subject you to enforcement motions, attorney fees and sanctions for not following the terms of the Judgment.
Here are a few things to review once you receive your Judgment back from the court:
Equalizing Payments. Is there an equalizing payment set forth in the Judgment? If so, make the payment. I had a client whose ex-spouse was ordered make an equalizing payment forthwith. The ex-spouse decided to “play games” – writing the first check to the wrong name, not signing the second check, claiming the third check was “lost in the mail” and wiring funds to a closed account. The ex-spouse ended up paying the equalizing payment after 45 days, but was required to pay a month of interest and sanctioned by the court, which found the delay intentional.
Beneficiaries. As illustrated in the arbitration case above, review, and if necessary, change the beneficiaries on all of your retirement accounts, bank/financial accounts, and disability/life insurance policies. Be careful though, your Judgment may require you to keep your ex-spouse as a beneficiary on a life insurance policy in order to protect the children/ex-spouse if you die before child or spousal support terminates. If you receive support and your ex-spouse is required to keep you as the beneficiary, periodically check that you are still the beneficiary. If you have an insurance agent, meet with the agent to go over any changes you may wish to make that are consistent with the Judgment.
Financial Accounts. If financial accounts need to be divided, be sure to do so pursuant to the terms of the Judgment. Contact your bank and financial institutions to ensure that your ex-spouse cannot access or make charges to accounts awarded to you. This may require closing the account and opening it in your name alone with a new account number.
Credit Cards. Contact your credit card companies to ensure that your ex-spouse cannot charge to credit cards awarded to you. You may need to close the credit card account and open a new one to ensure that an ex-spouse is not able to charge to credit cards he or she could previously charge to.
Retirement Accounts. Are retirement plans or pensions being divided and is a Qualified Domestic Relations Order required for the division? Although you and your ex spouse may be able to divide some retirement accounts, like IRA’s, fairly easily, a QDRO specialist is often retained to calculate and divide the community interest in retirement/pension plans. Check with your attorney to determine how to best proceed with the division of retirement assets.
Real Property / Vehicle Title and Loans. Were you awarded or did you buy out your ex-spouse’s interest in community real property? If so, discuss with your attorney changing title into your name alone. If your former spouse refuses to sign the title change documents, the court can appoint an elisor to sign for your ex-spouse.
Also be sure to change title on any vehicles awarded to you. This can usually be done through the DMV with forms available online.If you were ordered to refinance real property loans, be sure you do so. Even if you are only required to make your best efforts to refinance (it is difficult to qualify for re-financing in this economy), make your best efforts by applying with several lenders, and keep trying. If you do not do so, depending on the Judgment language, you may lose the property!
Wills and Trusts.Meet with your estate planning attorney or advisor to prepare a new will/trust as well as other estate planning documents like Powers of Attorney and Health Care Directives. Although the divorce may automatically cancel your former spouse’s rights under a will, trust and power of attorney, it is important to meet with your estate planning attorney to update or prepare these documents to ensure your current intent is accurately reflected.
Internet / E-Mail. Be sure to change the passwords and answers to security questions for all of your e-mail accounts and for any internet websites you visit (Facebook), purchase from (Amazon) or use for finances (Banks). Make sure the new password something that your ex-spouse cannot easily guess. Many websites let you write and answer your own security questions. This can help prevent your ex-spouse hacking into your online accounts and e-mails.