Anthony Bourdain was an immensely popular chef, television host, and story teller. Bourdain began his career as a dishwasher and rose to become the head chef at Les Halles in New York City. He later wrote an article that he submitted to the New Yorker, entitled “Don’t Eat Before Reading This”. Bourdain gained increased notoriety when he wrote Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly. The success of his first book, which became a New York Times bestseller, led to Bourdain’s television career with such shows as a Cook’s Tour, No Reservations, and most recently, Parts Unknown on CNN. Bourdain had a relatability that allowed him to transcend social class and race. He was just as comfortable talking with the President of the United States  as he was speaking with more working class individuals.

While he enjoyed professional success, Bourdain’s personal life had its share of struggles. He was married to his high school girlfriend, Nancy Putkoski for 20 years before his marriage ended in divorce. Bourdain openly talked about his heroin and cocaine addictions that he was eventually able to kick. Following his first marriage, he rebounded quickly and married Ottavia Busia in April of 2007. That same year, the couple’s first and only child, Ariane, was born. Bourdain and Busia split in 2016. Despite their split, it was recently reported that the couple had not yet divorced prior to Bourdain’s passing on June 8, 2018.  With a net worth estimated of at least $16 million, one has to wonder what will happen to Bourdain’s estate.

What happens if you die before your divorce is finalized?

What happens if you or your spouse has filed for divorce and you die before the divorce is finalized? From a family law standpoint, the divorce will “abate”. This means the divorce process will stop and will no longer be completed. This can leave a great disparity between who you wanted to receive your assets and who will actually receive them.

If a divorce proceeding has been started, this will automatically revoke authority given to your spouse under a Power of Attorney or a Health Care Directive. The same cannot be said for beneficiary designations on your retirement accounts or life insurance policies and distributions under the terms of your will or trust. If you die before the divorce has been finalized and your beneficiary designations have not been updated and your will or trust has not been revoked or amended to exclude your spouse, your spouse may wind up receiving all of your assets. Keep in mind that, even if you do update your will or trust to exclude your spouse, if you die during the divorce, the divorce will abate and you will still be married at the time of your death. As such, you may only exclude your spouse to a certain extent. He or she may be able to claim what is known as the “elective share” and take up to 50% of your estate.

In Minnesota, if you do finalize your divorce, but fail to update your estate planning, there are certain protections under Minn. Stat. § 524.2-804. Under that statute, the dissolution or annulment of a marriage may revoke a disposition or beneficiary designation made to a former spouse. In addition, the Minnesota Uniform Trust Code provides that the dissolution of marriage will revoke any disposition or provision for the trust maker’s ex-spouse, unless the trust expressly provides otherwise.

As for Anthony Bourdain’s death, the effect of his failure to divorce his spouse will depend on the estate planning he had in place at the time of his death. There is little information surrounding the status of Bourdain’s separation from his spouse. If he indeed had not finalized his divorce, it seems likely that his estranged wife would inherit his estate.

The above issues are those relating to the effect of dying during your divorce on your estate planning. If you are currently in the middle of a divorce, you should begin speaking with an estate planning attorney as soon as possible to discuss the effects of your divorce on the disposition of your property. Proper care should be taken to update your plan and ensure that your loved ones, and not your ex-spouse, receive your assets.

Zach Wiegand is a Burnsville, Minnesota estate planning attorney and the owner of Gold Leaf Estate Planning, LLC. Gold Leaf Estate Planning is an estate planning law firm that handles probate and trust administration in Minnesota. We serve the Twin Cities metropolitan area with a focus on estate planning for clients in Burnsville, Eagan, Savage, Prior Lake, Lakeville, Apple Valley, Eden Prairie and the South Metro. The firm also handles probate in Dakota County, Washington County, Scott County, Hennepin County, and Ramsey County. Zach was named a Minnesota Super Lawyer – Rising Star for both 2017 & 2018 and he is a member of WealthCounsel – a national organization of estate planning attorneys dedicated to practice excellence. You can contact Zach via e-mail at zach@goldleafestateplanning.com or by calling (952) 658-6503. Gold Leaf Estate Planning is located in Burnsville at 3000 County Road 42 W., Suite 310, Burnsville, MN 55337.

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