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Updating Your Estate Plan

In a bold move to embrace new beginnings later on in life, older adults are choosing to part ways more than ever before. This growing trend has become commonly known as “gray divorce.” According to AARP, Baby Boomers born between 1946 and 1964 are witnessing the highest rates of divorce among neighboring generations. Since 1990, adults over 50 have been getting divorced at a steady upward pace, accounting for 36% of all divorces as of 2019. While you may never fall into this statistic, updating your estate plan periodically is encouraged even if you’re happily married.

Divorce carries less social stigma today, with women initiating approximately 70% of separations (as reported by Psychology Today). Various factors play into this phenomenon. Boomers, under societal pressure to marry, often tied the knot at a younger age and before achieving financial stability. Unlike younger generations, where divorce rates decrease with longer marriages, older adults are increasingly opting to dissolve unions lasting longer than a decade. This shift reflects changing attitudes towards marriage and personal fulfillment at a later stage in life.


Gray divorce can have a significant impact on financial stability, retirement plans, and long-term care strategies. Whether you’ve built a life with someone over the years, raised children together, or have been married multiple times, divorce comes with a variety of hurdles. Transitioning into retirement, managing chronic health conditions, and financially supporting family members are all matters that require extra attention during divorce proceedings.

As reported by AARP, both men and women over 50 experience a decline in their standard of living post-divorce. However, the impact tends to be more pronounced for women, with an average decrease of 45% compared to 21% percent for men.

With limited time to recover and rebuild financial resources, older individuals often face heightened financial strain following a marriage dissolution. This is why consulting with an estate planning attorney is critically important if you are considering a divorce later in life.


Separating from a spouse can bring significant changes in your desires and expectations for retirement. Additionally, divorce impacts pre-existing estate plans, long-term care directives, and retirement income.

To secure your future and live comfortably in retirement, consider these five critical ways to update your estate plan following a gray divorce:

1. Begin Estate Planning If You Haven’t Already

Estate planning is an important retirement step that many individuals postpone. According to’s latest 2024 Wills and Estate Planning study, a staggering two-thirds of people do not have a will or estate planning document. If you find yourself getting divorced and you haven’t begun estate planning, now is the time to do so.

Working with an estate planning attorney allows you to create a plan that suits your unique circumstances. Establishing trusts and drafting wills streamlines wealth transfer by bypassing probate, thus easing the burden on your loved ones and ensuring your wishes are respected.

Under certain medical circumstances, hospitals typically turn to spouses as surrogate decision-makers. However, for divorced individuals, another trusted person needs to be appointed through powers of attorney. Designating an agent empowers you to maintain control over your healthcare decisions even if your health deteriorates.

Consulting with an estate planning attorney also opens avenues for discussing long-term care affordability, insurance options, and access to public benefits.

2. Select a New Beneficiary

Most married couples designate their spouse as the beneficiary for their invested assets and various accounts. These can include:

  • Investment accounts
  • Life insurance policies
  • Annuities that provide death benefits
  • Payable on death (POD) bank accounts
  • Retirement accounts such as 401(k) plans and IRAs

However, divorces sometimes necessitate keeping a former spouse as a beneficiary, despite the individual’s preferences. While some states, like Illinois, automatically revoke ex-spouses as beneficiaries, most require individuals to manually update their accounts and policies. Failing to do so could result in the former spouse receiving funds upon the individual’s passing.

To remove an ex-spouse as a beneficiary, it’s crucial to revisit each account or plan and make the necessary updates. For example, one might designate children or another family member as the new beneficiary on a life insurance policy. Being thorough is essential, and all accounts or policies should be reviewed. This is particularly important for payable-on-death accounts and policies that transfer assets outside probate.

3. Create a New Will

When wills are drafted, it’s typical to designate one’s spouse as the primary beneficiary. Doing so ensures their financial security and well-being, however, this changes after a gray divorce. If you wish to modify an existing will to exclude your spouse or designate new beneficiaries, creating a new will is the recommended course of action.

While updating your will, you have the option to name alternative beneficiaries, such as children, other family members, or close friends. This allows you to reflect changes in your relationships, financial situation, or personal preferences accurately.

It’s essential to note that simply revising an old will may not be legally sufficient or provide the clarity needed to enforce your wishes. Therefore, most legal experts advise against amending an existing will and instead advocate for creating a new one. By doing so, you can ensure that your intentions are accurately documented and legally binding, reducing the risk of disputes or challenges in the future.

4. Execute a New Power of Attorney

Beyond your will, another vital aspect of estate planning is your power of attorney (POA). These legal documents empower you to appoint a trusted individual to make decisions on your behalf in case you become incapacitated.

There are two primary types of power of attorney: one for property, which handles financial matters, and another for health care, also known as a health care proxy.

Following a divorce, many individuals may no longer wish to grant decision-making authority to their former spouses. If your power of attorney currently designates your ex-partner as your agent, it’s advisable to create a new document naming a different person. Typically, the new power of attorney explicitly revokes all previous versions, rendering the old document void.

It’s important to communicate these changes effectively. When updating your power of attorney for health care, notify your health care providers and provide them with a copy of the new document to ensure they have the most up-to-date information. Similarly, inform your bank of any changes to your power of attorney for property and provide them with the revised document for their records.

5. Make Plans for Long-Term Care

The financial implications of divorce can significantly affect your retirement plan. Most importantly, health directives and long-term care plans will need to be updated. Consideration of where you envision yourself living and the type of support you may require in the future is crucial for developing a new retirement strategy.

When preparing for long-term care, individuals should plan to:

  • Secure long-term care insurance to cover potential expenses
  • Invest in annuities to generate retirement income
  • Transition to more accessible housing or downsizing to reduce expenses
  • Explore assisted living facilities or senior housing options
  • Enlist the services of a home health aide or housekeeper for assistance
  • Establish a Medicaid Asset Protection Trust to safeguard assets and qualify for Medicaid benefits

By evaluating these options and crafting a tailored plan, you can overcome the financial complexities of divorce and prepare for a secure and comfortable retirement.


Navigating the legalities of divorce can be stressful at any age, but even more so during your retirement years. To confidently prepare yourself for this next chapter, speak with an estate planning attorney who can support you.

Bromlow Law, PLLC and Laura L. Bromlow, are dedicated to the practice of Elder Law and Estate Planning. Our practice focuses solely on working with clients in these and closely related legal fields. Laura L. Bromlow is a Certified Elder Law Attorney with the National Elder Law Foundation. Bromlow Law, PLLC strives to enhance communication among family members and loved ones and to keep them all out of conflict so they can stay out of court. We want to help you keep your close circle safe!

Please contact our office today at (281) 665-3807 to schedule a free consultation to discuss your legal matters. We look forward to the opportunity to work with you.

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