Many people mistakenly believe that once their divorce is finalized, their days of filling out paperwork and forms are over. The truth is you’re close to being done with all the documents – but not quite there. In the beginning days after your divorce is finalized, obtain a copy of your certified divorce decree and take some time to review the below checklist and ensure you have all applicable items in order or scheduled on your calendar and ready to be addressed:
- If you’ve reverted back to using your maiden name (or changed your name at all), update your driver’s license, social security card, automobile title and registration, any insurance policies, employer records and any other important documentation. (Note: It’s generally free to change your name as part of your divorce decree, but will cost you money if you do it at a later point).
- If you’ve moved, update your mailing address and have all mail forwarded to your new home.
- If a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) is required per the divorce decree, follow-up to ensure it is drafted, entered into and implemented. Check with related investment companies, pension plans, 401(k) administrators and benefits departments to ensure the QDRO is on file and executed.
- If permissible under the divorce decree, update beneficiaries on any retirement accounts and life insurance policies.
- Prepare and execute a Quitclaim Deed for any transfers of real property between you and your ex-spouse.
- Based upon the divorce decree, prepare and sign transfer of title paperwork where required for any automobiles or watercraft.
- Remove your or your ex’s name from any jointly held accounts.
- Close jointly held credit accounts and ensure you establish (and use) credit in your own name.
- Ensure that your bank accounts are registered in your name only. Order checks with your new name and / or address on them. (Note: When ordering checks for a new account, ask that the check numbers start with 1000 instead of 1 or 100).
- Once all joint accounts are closed, wait 2 to 3 months and order a new copy of your credit report.
- Notify your tax preparer and update your tax withholdings to reflect your new filing status (likely Head of Household or Single) and / or withholding requirements.
- If necessary, explore options for new medical insurance coverage or apply for COBRA health insurance.
- If you haven’t done so, evaluate the need to obtain life insurance on your ex-spouse to replace any potential loss in spousal or child support income. Or, if required, ensure that you or your ex-spouse obtain additional life insurance to ensure continued care should you predecease monetary obligations. Ensure you provide and/or ask for proof of any compulsory policies.
- Set up direct deposit and/or income withholding for child support, spousal support or alimony payments and keep track of any payments made or received.
- Work with an estate planning attorney to write and execute a new will, trust, and powers of attorney. In some states, marriage or divorce can revoke a previous will. Ensure that you revoke all power of attorney privileges previously granted to your ex-spouse in writing and place special consideration on who you designate as your executor and successor trustees and the responsibilities and tasks that will befall them.
- If you were married to your ex for more than 10 years, keep a copy of both your marriage license and divorce decree on hand. Once you are eligible, you will have the right to claim upon your former spouse’s social security benefits, which may result in a larger benefit than your own.
- Update and change all passwords on your online access accounts.
- Review the divorce decree for any other miscellaneous items or actions required of you or your ex.
Remember to keep copies of all executed documents on file. Though the above checklist is a standard overview, it may not be comprehensive or fit your exact situation. Work with an attorney or trusted expert when working through these “next steps” after your divorce and remember to review your divorce decree closely and ensure you understand what is required of both you and your former spouse.
Mary Beth Storjohann, CFP®, CDFA
Senior Financial Planner
San Diego, CA