Have a lot on your mind post-divorce? We get it. This straightforward checklist of financial to-dos is designed to lead you to the next stage of your journey with confidence.
Going through a divorce isn’t easy—emotionally, mentally, or financially.
“It may feel like there’s a mountain of work that comes with the process of separating your life from someone else,” says Heather Winston, financial professional and product director for Retirement and Income Solutions at Principal®.
But we’re here to help you tackle money-related to-dos, so you can move forward. Let’s break it down step by step.
Start with your financial basics.
Over the years, most couples accumulate a lot of things—from physical assets to homes to retirement savings—and the separation of those things takes both time and patience. As you work with your ex to decide who will keep what, maintain a detailed list. That list will help if you need to change ownership of anything.
Create a budget (PDF), including all income and all expenses. Winston suggests being slightly conservative with your spending for the time being, until your new lifestyle, goals, and financial plans all align.
Right now, it’s not important how much you have; it’s important that you build an emergency fund to help with unexpected expenses such as car repairs or the replacement of a hot water heater. Ideally, you won’t dip into long-term savings for short-term needs.
While you probably already have a divorce lawyer, you may want to add tax and financial professionals to your team, too. Family and friends are good places to start for recommendations.
Work through important documents, protection, and access.
If you wish to change your name, check with your divorce attorney about the court order you may need to implement a name change on certain types of accounts. Then apply the change across all accounts.
Contact the Social Security Administration at ssa.gov and your state’s driver’s license bureau. If needed, update your passport at travel.state.gov.
In addition to closing joint accounts, open new ones in your name. Search online for high-interest savings options.
Review the beneficiaries on your policies and accounts, including life insurance and annuities—and make updates as needed. Many companies have these forms online.
Credit cards, lines of credit, or loans that may have your name
Request a copy of your credit report (you can get one at annualcreditreport.com), so you’re aware of and can close any joint accounts. Get new credit cards with your new name.
Get updated copies of a mortgage deed from your county recorder to ensure your new name is correct. If you’re retaining a home, you may need to begin the refinance process.
Property and car insurance
Ensure your coverage matches the list of assets you retain by contacting your insurance agent.
If you’re transitioning from one policy to the next, consider temporary insurance through COBRA, which can provide coverage for up to 18 months. Your previous insurer can help.
If you and a former spouse shared any passwords, you may want to change them. (We have some tips for keeping your accounts secure.)
Evaluate future needs and plans.
“You may need to reevaluate your retirement plan,” Winston says. “Divorce could push out your expected retirement date or require you to save more than you had been to stay on track. This is an opportunity to reexamine what your retirement will be and how to fund it.”
If you and an ex are splitting a workplace retirement plan such as a 401(k), 403(b), or a pension plan, you’ll need a court-issued document called a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO). Your lawyer can help. Retain a copy and follow up on payouts or the transfer of assets according to the divorce agreement. Learn more about a QRDO.
To transfer IRAs or other retirement accounts, provide the financial institution with a copy of the divorce settlement and any requested paperwork.
If you need cash now, ask your tax advisor about tax laws that impact withdrawals from a workplace retirement plan vs. an IRA.
Run new projections with your tax advisor in case you need to make withholding changes.
Update your will and estate documents, including any health care-related documents.
And finally: Start building your own financial plan. If you have questions, we can connect you with a financial professional who can help you figure out how much to save for retirement and which adjustments to make.
Ending a marriage comes with so many considerations, and your post-divorce finances are one piece of your life puzzle, Winston says. Her tip: “Avoid immediate, knee-jerk decisions. If you’re emotional, set things aside and come back to them. But do come back. It will take time and effort to match who you are now with your new financial life.”