In our last two articles, we discussed the overlap that can occur between estate planning and family law, talking about two situations that may require us to operate as a team with a family law attorney in order to ensure a successful outcome for our clients:

  • Grandparents planning to leave legacies to their grandchildren might be fighting for greater visitation opportunities with those grandchildren.
  • A divorce settlement might involve a support agreement for a special needs child, and it becomes necessary to navigate through the complex maze of federal and state laws, preserving all possible government benefits for the child.

“One common class of assets that implicates both family and estate law is pension benefits,” Susana Popvic-Montage and Ian M. Hull point out in the Huffington Post article “The Intersection Between Family And Estate Law”. Pension benefits, they explain, have the potential to form a significant part of an estate, and can be the source of conflict. As recently as November 2015, new amendments to the Pension Benefits Act came into force, the authors note.

In Indiana, vested retirement accounts are subject to division by the court. In Indiana, if spouses share in each other’s retirement or pension plan, a Qualified Domestic Relations Order must be completed. A QDRO is a written set of instructions that explains to a plan administrator that two parties are dividing pension benefits.

At Geyer & Associates, we may find ourselves advising clients who are at various stages of the planning process relative to pension assets:

  • A couple was still married when they formulated an estate plan using the help of the lawyers at Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates. Now the two are divorcing and need to formulate a new plan.
  • A new, recently divorced client enlists our help in revising his/her estate plan.
  • A family lawyer calls upon our estate planning attorneys to work as a team in devising a plan for a client in the process of a divorce.

When it comes to retirement benefits in a divorce, matters are rarely simple. Retirement benefits may be contingent upon the working spouse remaining at his or her place of employment for a certain number of years.  Those benefits cannot be divided in the divorce settlement because the employee is not yet vested in them, explains divorcesource.com.

To coordinate all the aspects of the plan from both a divorce settlement and an estate planning point of view, we may need to operate in a team approach to ensure a successful outcome for our clients.

“To recognize family changes involving marriage, separations, and the beginning or end of common law relationships, it is important to periodically review one’s estate plan to determine if changes need to be made,” Popvic-Montage and Hull caution. At Geyer & Associates, we couldn’t agree more.