Revisiting Revocation upon Divorce?

37 Pages Posted: 13 Sep 2018  

Naomi Cahn

George Washington University - Law School

Date Written: 2018

Abstract

In an increasing number of states, divorce presumptively renders an ex-spouse ineligible to benefit from the testator’s will. Divorce may also impact other revocable dispositions in favor of the ex-spouse and exclude the ex-spouse’s family members from benefitting in any way from the decedent’s death. Revocation upon divorce statutes have become more common as divorce itself has become more common, and courts have been quite rigorous in interpreting the statutes, creating an almost irrevocable presumption of revocation. By contrast, other countries vary in their approaches to the effect of a divorce on testamentary and nonprobate transfers to an ex-spouse and family members.

This Article challenges the utility of the presumption of revocation upon divorce. In raising questions about the appropriateness of the presumption, this Article traces developments in divorce law—from the purely fault system to the no-fault system to contemporary, and more collaborative, approaches to divorce—to show the historical shifts towards contemporary attempts to dissolve the acrimony often associated with divorce. This Article also explores the relatively limited sociological and empirical material on actual individuals’ preferences for disposition of their estates to ex-spouses and their families. And it examines the class, gender, and race aspects of wealth ownership as part of an effort to determine who is most likely to have probate and nonprobate assets affected by the revocation statutes. Finally, this Article discusses alternative approaches for states to consider.

Keywords: nonprobate assets; divorce; ERISA; retirement and insurance plans

JEL Classification: K19, K36

Suggested Citation

Cahn, Naomi, Revisiting Revocation upon Divorce? (2018). Naomi R. Cahn, Revisiting Revocation upon Divorce?, Iowa Law Review, Vol. 103, No. 1879, 2018; GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 2018-39; GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2018-39. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3248755

Naomi R. Cahn (Contact Author)

George Washington University - Law School ( email )

2000 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20052
United States
202-994-6025 (Phone)
202-994-5614 (Fax)

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