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Retirement accounts, other asset-division considerations

A recent media article on divorce refers to the “sea of potential issues” confronting many couples during marital dissolution, especially when it comes to property division.

To the extent that is true (and it certainly is for many divorcing couples in Georgia and across the country), the metaphor can apply with special vigor to couples untying the knot in a high-asset divorce.

The reasons for that are both many and logical, but boil down to one essential consideration: In such divorces, there are comparatively more assets that weigh in and need to be divided.

And as many family law commentators routinely note, that can be a complex and time-consuming process.

Consider the unraveling of a retirement account, for example. It is quite common in many divorces that a 401(k) or other savings vehicle held in the name of one spouse is to be cracked open and divided between both spouses in a divorce.

That doesn’t simply happen. Rather, it takes planning and a bit of time. If not seen to properly, unintended and undesirable results can ensue.

The plan administrator of any such account must be duly notified of its division, for instance, and both approve and take subsequent action to effect the stated outcome. During any period in which that is not happening, the transferee spouse has no control over named beneficiaries in the account or how it is being invested.

Worst-case scenario: The investment options could be entirely wrong and materially dissipating assets, and an ex-spouse’s death before all legal changes have been duly attended to could result in a new spouse being named beneficiary by default.

A divorce attorney with proven experience in asset division matters can help a client identify and resolve issues relating to property during a dissolution in a timely and effective manner.

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Divorcing couples face sea of potential issues when dividing financial assets," Tim Grant, Sept. 2, 2013

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