Does Divorce Invalidate a Will In Pennsylvania?

Getting a divorce does not invalidate an entire will or estate plan under Pennsylvania law, but a divorce (even the initiation of a divorce) impacts provisions of many different estate planning documents and designations.

Under Pennsylvania law, some estate planning documents are automatically impacted as soon as a divorce petition is filed.  Other documents are impacted when the grounds for divorce are established, and upon the actual divorce decree.

Revocation of Power of Attorney Upon Filing For Divorce In Pennsylvania

Under 20 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5605(c), provisions naming a spouse as an agent under a power of attorney, health care power of attorney, and advanced medical directive are deemed invalid and revoked upon the filing of a divorce petition.  Section 5605(c) states:

If a principal designates his spouse as his agent and thereafter either the principal or his spouse files an action in divorce, the designation of the spouse as agent shall be revoked as of the time the action was filed, unless it appears from the power of attorney that the designation was intended to survive such an event.

If you revise your documents after divorce, or if your power of attorney is clear that the designation of your spouse as your agent was intended to survive a divorce, then the designation of your former spouse as agent will be upheld.

Revocation Of Provisions In Favor Of Spouse In Will Or Trust

Sections 20 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§ 2507 and 6111.1 govern the impact of a divorce in Pennsylvania on a will, revocable trust, and other revocable conveyances.

The timing of the revocation of a provision in favor of a spouse under a will or trust is different than under the power of attorney statute.  Instead of revocation occurring at the time of the filing of a divorce, revocation occurs once the grounds for the divorce are established.

Establishing the grounds for the divorce takes place during the divorce proceedings, not immediately at filing.  Once the grounds for the divorce are established under Pennsylvania law, any terms in favor of the spouse will be revoked, including nomination as a fiduciary or beneficiary under the documents.

Section 2507(2) governs the impact of a divorce or pending divorce on provisions in a testator’s will under Pennsylvania law and states:

(2) Divorce or pending divorce.–Any provision in a testator’s will in favor of or relating to the testator’s spouse shall become ineffective for all purposes unless it appears from the will that the provision was intended to survive a divorce, if the testator:

(i) is divorced from such spouse after making the will; or

(ii) dies domiciled in this Commonwealth during the course of divorce proceedings, no decree of divorce has been entered pursuant to 23 Pa.C.S. § 3323 (relating to decree of court) and grounds have been established as provided in 23 Pa.C.S. § 3323(g).

Section 6111.1 governs modification by divorce or pending divorce on any provision in a revocable conveyance (including a revocable trust).  Section 6111.1 closely mirrors section 2507(2) and states:

Any provision in a conveyance which was revocable by a conveyor at the time of the conveyor’s death and which was to take effect at or after the conveyor’s death in favor of or relating to the conveyor’s spouse shall become ineffective for all purposes unless it appears in the governing instrument that the provision was intended to survive a divorce, if the conveyor:

(1) is divorced from such spouse after making the conveyance; or

(2) dies domiciled in this Commonwealth during the course of divorce proceedings, no decree of divorce has been entered pursuant to 23 Pa.C.S. § 3323 (relating to decree of court) and grounds have been established as provided in 23 Pa.C.S. § 3323(g).

Revocation of Beneficiary Designations In Pennsylvania Upon Divorce

Beneficiary designations on bank accounts, life insurance policies, annuities, and other financial holdings are not automatically revoked by the filing of a divorce proceeding under Pennsylvania law.  Instead, similar to wills and trusts, the designation of a spouse will be rendered invalid in Pennsylvania if, at the time of your death, you were divorced or a divorce action was pending and the grounds for the divorce have been established.

The impact of divorce on an estate plan is significant.  If you are divorcing or divorced, revisiting your beneficiary designations and testamentary documents with your Pennsylvania probate lawyer is critical.  Even though your former spouse will no longer inherit under the documents, it’s important to revisit your planning to make sure your assets go to the intended beneficiaries.