How to Handle Your Assets in a Revocable Living Trust if You Get Divorced
Jonathan: Hello. My name is Jonathan Barlow. I'm a probate and estate planning attorney here at Clear Counsel Law Group. One question that we often get asked in connection with our estate planning practice is: If I'm going through a divorce and my assets are held in a revocable living trust with my spouse, what should I do?
The short answer to that is that first you should make sure you talk to your divorce attorney about that so that that can properly be divided through the divorce process. I'm not a divorce attorney so I don't know how that part works, but if you're wanting to make plans because you know you're going through divorce and you want to make sure those assets are protected, you can make lists and create some separate interest in those assets by going through and designating your interest in those assets and separating out what's called the community property interest in that property. You can create documents, either a will or another trust, to hold your interest in the community property.
In short, it's best to come in and probably create wholly new documents for yourself, whether a wholly new will or a new trust, to hold your interest in those marital assets. Now again, those are all still going to be subject to what happens through the divorce process and the property settlement agreements, the divorce decrees, things of that nature. The judge is going to able to allocate those, but you want to be able to protect your interests, make sure that if something happened to you in the interim before the divorce was finalized should you pass away that your interest in the assets go where you want them to go.
It's not really that much different than traditional estate planning even if you're not going through a divorce, because you still have these same questions you need to answer, which is: If I die, where would I want my property to go, whatever that property might be? Whatever that property might be will be determined by the divorce court, but you get to determine where that goes should something happen to you in the interim while you're going through the divorce process. Brian has a question about this.
Brian: Sorry, just to clarify, you're recommending creating an additional trust to hold your interest in the first trust? Is that correct?
Jonathan: That is an option to do that. As one of the co-owners of that trust, you have an equal interest, as does your spouse that you're divorcing, in those assets in the trust. It's a community interest, but you have the right to say what happens to your part of that interest. I would probably do it through a wholly new document. Like I said, through a new trust or a new will, just to create separation from the one that you're currently working with that's going to be split up anyways when you divorce. You don't have to do it that way. You certainly could do it through some form of an amendment to the current trust. You could take assets out of the trust, for that matter, and put them into your own individual name.
There are various techniques. The main thing is you want to make sure that you have written down and made very clear your instructions of what you want done with your interests, your property interests, should something happen to you when you pass away, or should you pass away. That's the best case scenario, best thing to do if you're going through a divorce, to make it very clear what you want done in that situation. If you have any questions about estate planning, if you're going through a divorce and don't know want to do about your assets, certainly give us a call here at ClearCounsel Law Group and we can walk you through this process. We'll help you review your current trust and make determinations about what you do need to put down in writing to make it very clear what should happen with your assets in the event of your death.