Sharing of property is fundamental to most marriages. In Kansas, when a couple decides to get divorced, assets acquired before or during the marriage must be divided regardless of how title is held. This includes benefits to be paid at death, such as life insurance policies and trust funds. While divorce automatically revokes the inheritance status of a former spouse in a will, all other beneficiary designations must be changed through the divorce decree and then forwarded to the company that issued the policy.
Under Kansas law, if a person dies while married, the surviving spouse is entitled to a portion of the estate relative to the number of years the couple was married. This is true even if a valid will exists providing for lesser amount. In that case, a spouse can simply elect to take the statutory amount over the will bequest. The purpose of this law stems from Kansas being an equitable distribution state, which assumes that both spouses contributed to the marriage and each should be entitled to a certain percentage of the marital estate, according to the principle of fairness.
While Kansas law is written so as to prevent a spouse from using a will to disinherit the other or to leave a negligible bequest, the same rationale does not apply to divorced couples. No elective share may be pursued after spouses divorce, and state law automatically revokes any provisions of a will that provide a specific bequest to the former spouse. This is based on the principle that the deceased person would not have intended the inheritance to survive the divorce, and that the other spouse's financial well-being was accounted for in the property division aspect of the divorce.
Other Beneficiary Designations
The automatic revocation provision under Kansas law only applies to wills. This can be problematic if a deceased person listed his former spouse as beneficiary on an insurance or annuity policy during the marriage, then failed to change the designation after divorce. To address this issue, the state legislature passed a law that requires judges to include changes in beneficiary status as part of the property division aspect of the divorce and note the change in the divorce decree. This rule applies to all asset transfers that take effect upon death, including trust instruments and payable on death accounts.
Although Kansas law requires that the change in beneficiary status for trusts and other payable on death accounts become part of the final divorce decree, this rule does not effectively change the beneficiary designation. Instead, the spouse who owns the policy must contact the insurance company or bank and make a request to have the former spouse removed from the policy. This is also true for trusts, which need to be updated by the owner spouse to reflect the removal of the former spouse as beneficiary.