If you’re a divorced woman, chances are you’ve got a lot on your plate right now. The chaotic and difficult process of getting divorced means you’ll spend lots of time weeding through the marital assets, separating finances, and sorting out vital things like custody of children. Getting financially stable after a divorce is no easy feat, and there are lots to manage.
One area many divorcing couples overlook is life insurance. As a divorced woman, the challenges addressed by securing life insurance are two-fold. First and foremost, any existing policies will need to be adjusted to change beneficiaries and ensure the protection of child support or alimony payments. Secondly, you’ll need to consider the best kind of life insurance policy for your situation and how much coverage you’ll need moving forward.
Here are a few items to add to your to-do list as a divorcee to ensure you and any dependents are financially protected, both in the short term and the foreseeable future.
Getting Divorced? Don’t Forget about Life Insurance
When you were married, your spouse was probably listed as the primary beneficiary on your life insurance policy. After all, the entire point of life insurance is to shelter your family and loved ones if your income is lost through a tragic death. A life insurance policy is a crucial contingency plan for meeting financial obligations like mortgages, car payments, and putting food on the table.
After a divorce, much of that calculus changes. If you are divorced without children, chances are you’re not keen to see your spouse benefit on the event of your demise. No matter your marital status, life insurance companies don’t dispute who receives payouts on a policy. For the company, it’s a simple contract between the insurance carrier and the policyholder. The beneficiary is whomever you documented when you took out the policy, and that won’t change unless you file a specific request with the company.
Changing beneficiaries is usually a straightforward process of contacting your life insurance carrier. Unless you have a policy with irrevocable beneficiaries, you can specify someone new to receive the payout upon your death with minimal paperwork and fuss. Some insurance carriers provide ways to accomplish this online, while others require going through a broker or submitting notarized documentation.
And remember, life insurance isn’t the only thing you’ll need to update. Remember to switch over other insurance policies, including health, home, and auto insurance. It’s also essential to change the beneficiaries in any legal documentation that might survive you, like a will and a power of attorney.
Policies with Cash Value
Some permanent life insurance policies, such as whole life or universal life policies, accumulate cash value. As you pay premiums, a portion of the money goes into an investment fund that can expand as the stocks rise. If you’ve had such a policy and recently divorced, you probably discovered the balance in that fund is considered part of the marital assets. You’ll typically have two options—keep the policy and continue paying premiums or cash out and divide the spoils.
For typical term life insurance policies, no payout is made until death occurs or the policy period expires. However, for whole and universal life insurance policies, you can choose to decline any potential death benefit in lieu of taking the current cash value of the policy. Therefore, these kinds of permanent life insurance policies are considered part of your net worth as a couple and get divided as assets during the divorce settlement accordingly.
You may also want to speak to a financial advisor in addition to your divorce attorney before making any critical decisions about dissolving or dividing assets. Financial experts can give you advice about how to handle transitioning not only insurance policies but also other assets like 401(k) and retirement plans in a way that’s equitable for both spouses and avoids tax penalties.
Protect Your Income
When you get divorced, life insurance isn’t solely about covering your lost income for the dependents you leave behind. It’s also about replacing any potential child support or alimony payments if you or your former spouse should die. For the parent who retains primary custody after a divorce, a life insurance policy is a crucial safety net that can cover the costs associated with raising children, including future financial necessities like supporting them through college.
There are several ways to handle securing life insurance coverage on your former spouse. Some couples choose to make the stipulations about the policy and premiums part of the divorce decree. The court may even order the head of the household to take out a life insurance policy as part of the settlement. In cases where the court requires a spouse to maintain a life insurance policy after divorce, the coverage and duration mandated usually reflect the obligation. For example, if the life insurance is intended to cover a significant loss of income and child support for the custodial parent, the policy term will usually need to extend until the dependents are 18 or 21.
Financial Security for Children
If you carried a life insurance policy during the marriage to provide for your children in the event of a death, that need still exists. Plus, in an acrimonious divorce, things don’t always work out according to plan. If you have concerns about whether your former spouse will follow-through on making payments, take control of the life insurance policy yourself and pay the premiums to avoid any risk of coverage lapse. Even if the coverage was specified as part of your divorce decree, it may take time and significant hassle to get follow through on those stipulations enforced by the court. In the interim, you want the assurance that your policy is paid up and your coverage current.
When you’re raising children as a single parent, protecting your own income becomes doubly important after a divorce. In the event of your death, while arrangements may be made for someone you trust to care for your children, you’ll still want them to enjoy financial security through a generous life insurance benefit. The simplest way to calculate how much life insurance coverage you’ll need is to take the number of years until your child turns 18 or 21, then multiply it by your annual income. That amount is the bare minimum of insurance coverage you should be securing per child.
You can name your child as a beneficiary, but be aware that policies typically don’t pay out to a dependent under the age of majority. Instead, the court will appoint a custodian, usually the surviving parent, to supervise holding the funds in an account until your child is of age. If you don’t want your former spouse to be appointed by the court, specify a custodian as part of the policy.
A Word of Warning
If you’re still in the process of finalizing a divorce or in the beginning stages of filing for one, consult with your divorce attorney before taking any action. In most cases, assets are frozen during the process of a divorce and both parties are required to be fully transparent about any financial obligations, including insurance policies. Changing beneficiaries or coverage during divorce proceedings could raise red flags and unnecessarily prolong and complicate your settlement.
You should, however, do your research and be prepared to suggest any policy changes or premiums you want specified as part of the divorce decree. While divorce can be a painful process, it’s also an opportunity to take charge of your financial future and secure stability for both yourself and your dependents.
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