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Divorce is always difficult, but there are extra complications to tackle when a long-term marriage ends.

The rising trend of divorces following a decades-long marriage is sometimes referred to as a ‘grey divorce’.

“Divorce at any age is tough,” says Susan Bonnici, Senior Estate Planning Solicitor at Equity Trustees. 

“When you’re older at the time of divorce, it’s crucial that you consider how you split your assets and the implications this will have for your estate, especially if you have adult kids or a blended family. Grey divorces bring their own unique set of challenges and can wreak havoc on well thought out plans, particularly from an estate planning point of view.”

Revisit your will

In the early years of a marriage, many people use a will to nominate their spouse to receive their assets. However, there’s a debate about whether it’s best to update a will before or after divorce.

hile it’s usually a good idea to change your will before you divorce as your spouse will be entitled to your assets until your divorce is official, sometimes it’s better to wait for the official separation of assets and formal property settlement so that each party is clear about the assets they own post-divorce. 

Once a settlement has been reached, it’s important to create or update your own will to deal with the assets you now own and any changes to your beneficiaries. 

Blended families

Updating an estate plan can be more complicated if one party has remarried (or plans to do so) and there are children from the first marriage.

One option is to provide a “life interest” in the estate or part of the estate (such as the primary residence of the couple) for the new partner. This means that the estate assets will be held on trust for the benefit of the new partner (“the life tenant”) and they will be able to live in the property or receive the income payments from investments, for example, for the rest of their life. 

It’s vitally important to consider how property is owned by a couple when there is a blended family involved. If a will maker wants to ensure that their children from a previous marriage receive a share of the estate, they may need to sever a joint tenancy in a property they own with a new partner. 

Keep up the communication 

Communicating the changes in wills to family members can help reduce potential family conflict and angst during the divorce process. Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible if there’s a lot of ill-feeling, and possibly estrangement, among family members. 

But if you can find a way to keep everyone informed of your intentions without generating further conflict, then there will be fewer unexpected surprises when it comes time for the will to be administered. 

“Given the complexities of estate planning for grey divorcees, it is well worth seeking advice from a legal professional such as an estate planning solicitor from Equity Trustees or your family lawyer, who can set out the pros and cons before you make any decisions.”

More information about Equity Trustees’ wills and estate planning services is available on our website.