May 2015 Bar Bulletin
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May 2015 Bar Bulletin

Moving on When It's Over

By Lisa DuFour and Sharon Friedrich


"If you're serious about moving on in your life, all you have to do at this point is be willing to have your path be an enlightened one."
- Howard Bronson

After a family law dissolution or legal separation case has finally resolved through mediation, arbitration or trial, the client is emotionally, physically and probably financially exhausted. A family law attorney has several responsibilities to his/her client when a case is finalized.

First and foremost, the client's emotional well-being should be considered and, if necessary, be addressed. A client may need professional support through therapy, and consideration of this and assistance with referrals may be warranted.

Second, the client may need professional financial support to assist with investments, budgeting and other financial decisions. Finally, there are little "housekeeping" details that are so easily overlooked by a client once the aftermath of the litigation and its resulting emotional toll have abated.

We find it helpful for our clients to send them a closing letter that includes a checklist for them to review. Depending on the circumstances of each individual case, the closing list can be customized to address any additional issues that are pertinent to the case at hand.

It is also imperative that beneficiary designations be changed to comport to any requirements in the final orders or to designate new beneficiaries so that future proceeds will be paid as the client wishes. There is a current conflict between federal law and Washington law regarding life insurance policy beneficiary designations. See Egelhoff v. Egelhoff, 532 U.S. 141 (2001).

Additionally, receiving a closing checklist is a form of closure in and of itself that helps clients move forward despite all of the changes they have been required to work through as their family law case progressed and was finalized.

The following is sample closing checklist for family law cases:

Client Tasks To Complete Family Law Process

Life Insurance Policies

  • Change beneficiary designations
  • Transfer ownership

Automobiles, Boats and Other Vehicle Insurance Policies

  • Separate coverage
  • Add and/or delete covered drivers, including children

Automobile and Other Vehicle Titles

  • Transfer titles to vehicles
  • Transfer loan documents as necessary

Medical Insurance

  • Complete COBRA coverage forms
  • Apply for new coverage
  • Submit claims

Other Insurance Policies

  • Disability
  • Long-term care

Retirement Accounts, Pension and Defined Benefit Plans

  • Prepare QDROs and obtain court signature
  • Transfer IRA funds
  • Other transfers or adjustments to retirement accounts
  • Change beneficiary designations

Credit Cards

  • Run credit report
  • Close and open new accounts as appropriate
  • Name change, if applicable

Bank Accounts

  • Identify all accounts
  • Close and open accounts as necessary
  • Change beneficiary designations
  • Name change, if applicable

Investment Accounts

  • Close and open new accounts as necessary
  • Meet with investment advisor to revisit planning for future
  • Change beneficiary designations

Business Interests

  • Prepare and submit all change of ownership documents
  • Distribute documents to investment advisor and CPA

Social Security Benefits

  • Verify benefits and obtain necessary forms
  • Name change, if applicable

Tax Records

  • Identify and collect all needed documents
  • Meet with CPA to complete tax planning and prepare for upcoming tax season
  • Complete Form 8332 in regard to tax exemptions for children, if applicable

Real Estate

  • Execute necessary deeds and excise tax documents

Locate All Accounts for the Benefit of Children

  • Summarize accounts and balances for the benefit of children
  • Establish college accounts for children if required or desired

Will and Estate Planning

  • Execute new will
  • Update estate planning documents

Mail Issues and Name Change

  • Obtain change of address card from post office
  • Change address on bills, credit cards, magazine, etc.
  • Notify friends, family and business associates of new address
  • Notify utilities of new address
  • Name change, if applicable

By helping your client through all the details of becoming a single person through the dissolution of their relationship, you can help them establish a routine of normalcy in their life after going through enormous upheaval. The mundane responsibilities of changing their insurance beneficiaries and closing joint bank accounts can help them accept their new reality.

Their life has forever changed and they need to make sure that their financial documents reflect their new status as a single person ... until they decide to enter into a new relationship. But they are moving on and life will move along with them.


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