After the judge declares your divorce final, you may feel like breathing a sigh of relief. The divorce process is over, but there are still four steps you should take to ensure the smoothest possible transition to this next phase of your life:
1. Take care of your health insurance
Health insurance is a vital part of post-divorce planning. If you’re going to stay on your spouse’s health insurance plan through the federal COBRA law, you have to notify the health plan administrator within 60 days of your divorce.
In most instances, you have the right to stay on his or her benefits through COBRA if the company has over 20 employees. If it doesn’t, you still may be covered under “mini-COBRA” laws in certain states. You can stay on COBRA for up to 36 months, but it’s often beneficial to seek out other insurance coverage as soon as you can. COBRA can be quite expensive, since you’re usually paying the entire cost of your benefits – since the employer no longer pays any part – plus 2 percent.
2. Update your estate planning
If you need to update your will, after your divorce is a great time to do so. Make sure your beneficiaries are changed, if necessary. And if your ex-spouse was named as executor in your previous will, you’ll probably want to choose someone else.
The same changes need to be made for any living will or power of attorney documents that you previously had drawn up when you were married. Consult with a divorce attorney—such as Debbie L. Fong-Uribe PS—for further advice. You may also want to change the beneficiary of your other assets such as life insurance.
3. Close any joint accounts
A copy of your credit report will tell you if you and your spouse are listed jointly on any accounts. A free copy of your report is available once every 12 months from each of the three credit reporting companies – Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax.
Close any joint credit card or loan accounts that may be in both of your names. Otherwise, if your ex-spouse racks up debt, the lender will still hold you jointly responsible.
It’s important to also change your passwords for everything that your spouse previously had access to, including social networking accounts. Even if your divorce was relatively friendly, it doesn’t hurt to protect yourself.
4. Seek help if you need it
Divorce is a big adjustment for anyone. If you need help, ask for it. Counseling can be helpful, and even small communities usually have private counselors and divorce after-care groups. If you’re employed, your company may offer an employee assistance program that includes counseling.
Financial counseling may also be needed if you’re having trouble adjusting to changes in your post-divorce income and expenses. You’ll also want to consult a tax advisor for information on how your divorce will affect your taxes.
It can be tempting to think about the chapter of your life that’s closing when your divorce is finalized. But it’s best to look forward, making sure that you take the necessary steps for your financial, physical, and emotional well-being.