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Which important financial documents to change after divorce

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PhotoAlto/Eric Audras/Getty Images

When you're navigating a divorce it's easy to put things like updating your will and changing your savings account beneficiary on the back burner—but untangling conjoined finances is an important step toward your next phase in life. There are key financial documents to change or update after divorce, and the list can feel long and overwhelming. Where do you even start?

Take a deep breath. Divorce proceedings can consume a lot of time and energy, even when they go smoothly, so give yourself a moment to breathe. The hardest part may be behind you, so now it's all about getting organized.

Here's how you can get started.

Create a divorce document checklist

You may have shared assets, debts, bills and accounts with your former spouse. Alternatively, some of these might have only been in one individual's name. Depending on the terms of your divorce, these assets and accounts might be splitting or moving exclusively to you or your former spouse.

Maintaining a checklist of your income streams, financial assets and debts/obligations will help you keep track of your progress as you manage changes.

The following list can help get you started:

  • Name changes
  • Income and assets
  • Life insurance
  • Retirement and estate planning
  • Home and auto
  • Bills and utilities

Name changes

Some spouses choose to revert back to their maiden name following a divorce. If you decide to do so, check with your state to see if you need to file paperwork and the specific process that goes with it. After your name changes, you'll probably need to update:

  • Social Security card
  • Driver's license
  • Passport
  • Insurance policies
  • Voter registration
  • Post office

Along with these items, you also will have to change your name on all of the below accounts, even if they belong to you and are remaining with you. For the below, work with your attorney to understand the required action as a result of the divorce.

Income and assets

  • Bank accounts. You may need to open a new bank account whether or not you've changed your name. However, depending on your bank, you might be able to simply complete paperwork to update your individual account. Also, be sure to close any empty joint accounts.
  • Paycheck. You may need to change your name with your employer to a new bank account for direct deposits or other benefits.
  • Health care and work benefits. Review your employer-provided health insurance, HSAs and your life insurance plan. Update dependents and beneficiaries as needed. Be sure to talk to your attorney about the implications of your desired changes.

Life insurance

  • Active policies. Review any active life insurance policies, and make necessary updates. Also, you or your children may be listed as beneficiaries on your former spouse's policy, refer to your divorce decree for specific beneficiary requirements.
  • Beneficiaries. Speaking of beneficiaries, yours might be your former spouse, so you may want to change that now, in accordance with the terms of your divorce.

Retirement and estate planning

  • Power of attorney, proxies and will. With your attorney, review your will, power of attorney and any medical proxies you may have listed to confirm the people you've chosen are still correct.
  • College savings funds. If you were contributing to a college savings fund for your kids, you may need to review those documents for name changes and any college saving contributions defined in the divorce decree.

Home and auto

  • Mortgage. If you are keeping your home, review your mortgage paperwork and make any changes, including your homeowner's insurance. You'll need to do the same for any investment properties or vacation homes.
  • Lease. If you rent and are staying in your current housing, you should probably contact your landlord to update the lease, along with your renter's insurance policy.
  • Car and other vehicles. If your name is on the title and registration of a car or other vehicles such as a boat, ATV or farm equipment, you'll need to review and change these documents depending on who is taking ownership. Don't forget the insurance for these vehicles as well.

Bills and utilities

  • Credit cards. Depending on your divorce, you may be canceling your credit cards to sign up for individual accounts or keeping the cards you currently have. If the latter, remove your former spouse as a secondary user and deactivate any additional cards you may have authorized.
  • Utilities. If you're staying in the home or apartment you and your former spouse shared, review your current utilities and update your name and payment information accordingly. If you're moving out, ensure your name is removed.
  • Debts and loans. The division of debt is usually decided in divorce proceedings, including student loans and home equity loans. If any accounts remain open that you are responsible for, keep your contact information current.

Build a team

You probably already had a team of people helping you through your divorce proceedings, but your need for their expertise may not end once your divorce is final. Instead, lean on professionals such as financial advisors, tax experts and insurance specialists to help you sort through and update all these documents after divorce.

In addition, many financial advisors have worked with clients who have gone through divorces, so they can offer insight regarding the shift to financial planning as a single individual. You may have new plans for a bright future, and financial advisors can work with you to create an attainable path to help you achieve your goals.