Women in Transition: Moving Forward After a Marriage Ends Due to Death or Divorce

May 05, 2022
  • Private Banking
Senior Wealth Planner Anne Warren discusses financial and logistical challenges following major life events like the death of a spouse or the dissolution of a marriage.

Major life events like the death of a spouse or the dissolution of a marriage not only involve emotional challenges, but financial and logistical challenges as well.

Death of a Spouse

When a spouse dies, many women are faced with mourning their loved one at the same time that they are adjusting to managing their finances for the first time. For some women, the death of a spouse leaves them with a considerable amount of assets in their own name or in trust for their benefit. While this change in circumstance may provide a level of security, it can also be overwhelming to navigate how best to invest, manage and enjoy financial wealth going forward. An investment advisor and a wealth planner with trusts and estate experience can help surviving spouses choose how to invest their assets in order to preserve and grow capital and how best to structure financial and estate plans to provide for their families in the future.

Titling Assets

Assets held in an individual’s name on his or her death are usually subject to probate proceedings before they can be sold or distributed to beneficiaries. If a deceased spouse died with assets titled in his or her individual name, those assets may be tied up for a lengthy period of time while the estate goes through the probate process in court. If a surviving spouse needs immediate access to those assets to pay bills or provide for his or her lifestyle, probate can be an onerous process. Transferring title to assets into the name of a revocable trust during life can avoid probate for those assets at death. This can eliminate the difficulties involved with having limited control over valuable assets for an extended time period.

Review Estate Plan

A surviving spouse’s estate plan usually does not require revision immediately following the death of a spouse. Most estate plans contemplate the possibility that one spouse will predecease the other and provide for alternative beneficiaries and fiduciaries in that case. While there is no rush to update a plan following a spouse’s death, it is always prudent to revisit an estate plan within a reasonable time after a major life event to ensure there have been no changes in family circumstances or changes in the law that would warrant revisions to the plan. In many cases, an estate plan that otherwise needs to be updated can be simplified after the death of a spouse.


In the case of divorce, a change in financial circumstances is almost inevitable. Some women lose a portion of their financial wealth due to the division of marital assets during divorce, while others may be in the position of managing a significant amount of money for the first time. In either case, an experienced team of advisors can help smooth this difficult transition.

Inventory Assets and Set Financial and Investment Goals with an Advisor

Following a divorce, it is important for women to have an accurate understanding of the value of their assets and how best to manage and preserve those assets to support themselves, their families and their lifestyles going forward. An experienced advisory team can help complete that picture, identify financial goals and devise strategies for meeting those goals. While this process may initially seem intimidating or overwhelming, when done right, it can be incredibly empowering and reassuring.

Revise Estate Plans and Beneficiary Designation Forms Immediately

In many states, divorce revokes the provisions of an estate plan benefiting the former spouse or naming a former spouse in a fiduciary role such as executor, trustee or health care proxy. Essentially, the former spouse is treated as having predeceased, and the estate plan is administered according to that assumption. However, this is not the law in all states. It is important to understand the effects of state law on an estate plan in order to determine whether changes need to be made. In addition, while automatic revocation provisions may seem desirable for most people following a divorce, some former spouses remain amicable and wish to continue benefiting a former spouse in their plan or naming a former spouse as executor or trustee.

It is critical to review estate planning documents with an experienced attorney or wealth planner following divorce. The attorney can advise as to the effects of state law on an estate plan and can prepare changes to estate planning documents where necessary.

Reviewing and updating beneficiary designation forms on life insurance policies and retirement accounts is equally important following a divorce. In some cases, state law may revoke designations of former spouses as beneficiaries, but it is important to confirm this, and it is generally best to create new beneficiary designation forms in order to ensure one’s wishes are carried out.

When a marriage ends due to death or divorce, women must navigate a new financial and emotional landscape that can appear littered with obstacles and challenges. A trusted team of advisors can serve as experienced guides, making the journey through this landscape smoother and ultimately rewarding.

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Women & Wealth Magazine Fall Issue 2021

In this issue of Women & Wealth Magazine, we explore leadership, mentoring and life lessons from a wide range of perspectives. Whether you’re a parent hoping to raise children to be responsible with wealth, an executive leading a diverse team, a young person starting out or an engaged philanthropist learning from the past, we believe you’ll find important and helpful insight in this issue.

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