While it has always been important to review and revise your estate plan when going through divorce, a recent Minnesota Court of Appeals decision, filed on May 23, 2022, makes doing so all the more necessary.
In the Matter of the Estate of Mathew Joseph Tomczik, the Court of Appeals determined that when a former spouse is named as a devisee in an unambiguous will, a devise to “my spouse’s heirs” does not fail solely because the marriage is dissolved.” What this means is that no longer can a divorced person rely on a Minnesota statute revoking a former spouse’s devise as also revoking that former spouse’s heirs devises as well.
In Tomczik, Mathew and Sarah divorced in 2019. Mathew died in 2021. When he died, neither Mathew or Sarah had any children and Mathew had not remarried. Sarah was still living and so were her parents. In 1995, during Mathew and Sarah’s marriage, they executed “reciprocal wills” that were essentially the same. Mathew’s will provided, essentially, that if Sarah was deceased, then his estate would go “one-half to my heirs-at-law and one-half to my wife’s heirs-at-law.”
By operation of law, when Matthew and Sarah divorced, Sarah was deemed to have predeceased Mathew for purposes of ascertaining the beneficiary of his estate—even though she was still alive. This means, in very basic terms, that two years after their divorce, when Mathew and Sarah presumably divided their property equally, Sarah’s parents ended up receiving half of what Mathew received in the divorce.
As a result, divorced individuals in Minnesota can no longer rely on the law to provide cover in the event of their death without a new estate plan. Any devise to a former spouse’s family or family members may be deemed to still exist despite the divorce. It is vital, should you not want that to happen, that you go ahead and revisit your will and other estate planning documents with a Minnesota estate planning attorney. Had Mathew updated his will, a different result most likely would have occurred, and proper estate planning is something divorcing parties need to take much more seriously as a result of this new decision.
***It is possible that the Minnesota Supreme Court will review this decision. But for now, this is a precedential opinion and judges in Minnesota will need to follow it and provide the same result under similar facts.
Andrew M. Tatge is Gislason & Hunter’s Managing Partner and chair of the firm’s Family Law and Divorce Practice Group. He represents farmers, business owners, professionals, and other individuals in divorce and related actions. He also writes and speaks regularly on divorce issues related to business owners and family farms. Andrew can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (507) 387-1115. This information is general in nature and should not be construed for tax or legal advice.