West Chester, PA 19380
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Lee Ciccarelli is the founder and managing partner of Ciccarelli Law Offices with over two decades experience as a practicing attorney.
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When spouses file for divorce, some do not think to modify wills, trusts, or life insurance policies that may have been taken out several years before the separation. Under state law in Pennsylvania, any designation of a spouse as a beneficiary in an estate planning document is automatically revoked following a divorce.
Certain exceptions exist to this rule, however. Former spouses may still be entitled to benefits if the designation was not revocable or there was an agreement or court order establishes that the ex-spouse should remain designated as a beneficiary.
If you need assistance with an estate planning issue in relation to your divorce proceedings, it is in your best interest to immediately retain legal counsel. Ciccarelli Law Offices helps clients all over southeastern Pennsylvania with complex family law issues, including the division of marital assets.
Our divorce attorneys in West Chester represent people all over Lancaster County, Montgomery County, Chester County, Delaware County, and the greater Philadelphia area. They can review your case and answer all of your legal questions when you call (877) 529-2422 to schedule a free consultation.
State law in Pennsylvania provides that any provisions in wills or trusts that transfer assets or benefits to spouses become ineffective upon divorce. Under 20 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6111.2(a), the effect of divorce or pending divorce on the designation of beneficiaries is applicable if an individual resided in Pennsylvania, designated his or her spouse as beneficiary of a life insurance policy, annuity contract, pension, profit-sharing plan, or other contractual arrangement providing for payments to the spouse, and either, at the time of the individual's death is divorced from the spouse, or dies during the course of divorce proceedings, no decree of divorce has been entered, and grounds have been established in accordance with state law.
Additionally, 20 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 6111.2(b) establishes that any designation in which an individual designates his or her spouse as beneficiary that was revocable by the individual at the individual's death becomes ineffective for all purposes and is construed as if the spouse or former spouse had predeceased the individual, unless it appears the designation was intended to survive the divorce based on any of the following:
Probate is the legal process after someone dies that typically includes validating a deceased person's will and then identifying, inventorying, and appraising his or her property. The property is either distributed according to the will or state law after all of the deceased person’s debts and taxes have been paid.
Not all cases need to go through probate. Under 20 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 3101, the orphans' court division of the county where the decedent resided at the time of his or her death can distribute property to entitled parties when the estate does not have a gross value exceeding $50,000 (not including real estate and payments to family or funeral directors).
Life insurance is considered a non-probate asset that can be passed to beneficiaries without any court process. Other common non-probate assets include retirement accounts such as 401(k) or individual retirement accounts (IRAs) and property or other assets held in living trusts.
The specific requirements regarding changes to life insurance policies vary depending on the companies. While life insurance policies can be forgotten assets in divorce cases, some people make sure to include provisions in their divorce settlements that either retain spouses as beneficiaries or even force spouses to take out life insurance policies in order to provide support payments in the event of their deaths.
Register of Wills / Orphans' Court | Chester County, PA — The Register of Wills and Clerk of the Orphans’ Court handle estate probates in Chester County. Visit this website to find various forms and documents as well as learn about the fee schedules. You can also find answers to several frequently asked questions.
Register of Wills/Clerk of the Orphans' Court
201 W. Market Street, Suite 2200
West Chester, PA 19380
In Re: Estate of Sauers, No. 78 MAP 2009 — On November 23, 2011, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled that the state law providing that an ex-spouse was no longer eligible for death benefits was preempted by the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). In this case, a man obtained a $40,000.00 life insurance policy in 1997 from a life insurance company pursuant to an employee group benefit plan and then named his spouse, the appellant, as the primary beneficiary of the insurance policy when the couple married in 1998. The couple divorced in 2002 and the man died in 2006 without ever changing the beneficiary designation. The state Supreme Court ultimately awarded the $40,000 to the man’s ex-spouse, but it is important to note that ERISA would not have preempted the insurance policy had it been a private policy separate from employee benefits.
Do you have legal questions about modifying your or your spouse’s will or life insurance policy in divorce? Ciccarelli Law Offices can help you craft an agreement that addresses all of your concerns and ensures all of your future needs are met.
Our West Chester divorce attorneys work as a team, with office locations in such areas as King of Prussia, Philadelphia, Kennett Square, Springfield, Lancaster, Plymouth Square, Malvern, and Radnor. Call (877) 529-2422 or submit an online contact form today to receive a free initial consultation that will allow our lawyers to provide an honest and thorough evaluation of your case.