Sometimes, people forget about updating their wills, so some states -- including Maryland -- have laws that automatically change the terms of a person’s will when important life events occur, such as divorce. However, it is often wise for divorced individuals to create a new will after the divorce to ensure that property is distributed properly.
Under Maryland law, an adult who drafts a will -- called a testator -- may do so at any time, as long as it meets certain basic formalities, but once the testator obtains an absolute divorce, the divorce has the effect of revoking all provisions of the will that related to the testator’s ex-spouse. For example, if the testator’s will stated that half of the estate is to pass to his ex-spouse, the ex-spouse will inherit nothing if the testator dies after their divorce -- even if the testator never changed his will.
Unless otherwise provided in the will, only the provisions related to the ex-spouse are revoked automatically by divorce, leaving the rest of the will intact. The will remains effective for any other distributions. The property that was supposed to go to the ex-spouse may pass to others under the terms of your will, depending on how the will was drafted. For example, if a will drafted before a divorce gave everything to the testator’s ex-spouse and listed his siblings as alternate beneficiaries, then the testator's siblings will inherit the entire estate upon the divorce, not the ex-spouse.
Revising a Will
Even though divorce negates distributions to an ex-spouse, a testator may want to revise his will after a divorce so he can provide new directions for property previously left to his ex-spouse. If the testator’s will did not provide any alternate beneficiaries for the property previously left to his ex-spouse, that property will pass to relatives in accordance with Maryland law, so a new will is a way for the testator to ensure it goes to the people he wants. Also, if the testator still wants property to go to his ex-spouse after the divorce, he must create a new will to avoid Maryland’s automatic revocation provisions.
Distributions to Children
In Maryland, divorce only removes distributions made to the ex-spouse, not to children born from that marriage, so any provisions for the children remain intact unless the will provides otherwise. Even if the testator lost custody of the children in the divorce, his will remains effective to pass property to them. If the children are minors and the will does not provide a caretaker for the property passed to them, the testator’s ex-spouse may act as custodian of the property until the children reach adulthood.