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Estates, Powers, and Trusts Law 5-1.4

EPTL 5-1.4: Revocatory effect of divorce, annulment or declaration of nullity, or dissolution of marriage on disposition, appointment or other provision in will to former spouse


EPTL 5-1.4

Revocatory effect of divorce

(a) Except as provided by the express terms of a governing instrument, a divorce (including a judicial separation as defined in subparagraph (f)(2)) or annulment of a marriage revokes any revocable


   (1) disposition or appointment of property made by a divorced individual to, or for the benefit of, the former spouse, including, but not limited to, a disposition or appointment by will, by security registration  in beneficiary form (TOD), by beneficiary designation in a life insurance policy or (to the extent permitted by law) in a pension or retirement benefits plan, or by revocable trust, including a bank account in trust form,


   (2) provision conferring a power or power of disposition on the former spouse, and


   (3) nomination of the former spouse to serve in any fiduciary or representative capacity, including as a personal representative, executor, trustee, conservator, guardian, agent, or attorney-in-fact.


(b)(1) Provisions of a governing instrument are given effect as if the former spouse had predeceased the divorced individual as of the time of the revocation.


   (2) A disposition, appointment, provision, or nomination revoked solely by this section shall be revived by the divorced individual's remarriage to the former spouse.


(c) Except as provided by the express terms of a governing instrument, a divorce (including a judicial separation as defined in subparagraph (f)(2)) or annulment of a marriage severs the interests of the divorced individual and the former spouse in property held by them at the time of the  divorce  or  annulment as joint tenants with the right of survivorship, transforming their interests into interests as tenants in common.


(d)(1) A payor or other third party is not liable for having made a payment or transferred an item of property or any other benefit to a beneficiary (including a former spouse) designated in a governing instrument affected by a divorce, annulment, or remarriage, or for having taken any other action in good faith reliance on the validity of the governing instrument, before the payor or other third party received written notice of the divorce, annulment, or remarriage.

  (2) Written notice of a divorce, annulment, or remarriage under subparagraph (1) must be mailed to the payor's or other third party's main office or home by registered or certified mail, return receipt requested, or served upon the payor or other third party in the same manner as a summons in a civil action and may be filed with the secretary of state if real property or a cooperative apartment is affected. Upon receipt of written notice of the divorce, annulment, or remarriage, a payor or other third party may pay any amount owed or transfer or deposit any item of property held by it or with the court having  jurisdiction  of the probate proceedings relating to the decedent's estate or, if no proceedings have been commenced, to or with the court having jurisdiction over the divorce, the real property or cooperative apartment, securities, bank accounts or other  assets affected by the divorce or annulment under this section. The court shall hold the funds or item of property and, upon its determination under this section, shall order disbursement or transfer in accordance with the determination. Payments, transfers, or deposits made to or with the court discharge the payor or other third party from all claims for the value of amounts paid to or items of property transferred to or deposited with the court.


 (e) A person who purchases property from a former spouse or any other person for value and without notice, or who receives from a former spouse or any other person, a payment or other item of property in partial or full satisfaction of a legally enforceable obligation, is neither obligated under this section to return the payment, item of property or benefit, nor is liable under this section for the amount of the payment or the value of the item of property or benefit. But a former spouse or other person who, not for value, received a payment, item of property or any other benefit to which that person is not entitled under this section is obligated to return the payment, item of property or benefit, with interest thereon, to the person who is entitled to it under this section.


(f) For purposes of this section, the following terms shall have the following meaning and effect:

  (1) "Disposition or appointment of property" includes a transfer of an item of property or any other benefit to a beneficiary designated in a governing instrument.


  (2) "Divorce or annulment" means a final decree or judgment of divorce or annulment, or a final decree, judgment or order declaring the nullity of a marriage or dissolving such marriage on the ground of absence, recognized as valid under the law of this state, or a "judicial separation," which means a final decree or judgment of separation, recognized as valid under the law of this state, which was rendered against the spouse.


  (3) "Divorced individual" includes an individual whose marriage has been annulled or subjected to a judicial separation.


  (4) "Former spouse" means a person whose marriage to the divorced individual has been the subject of a divorce, annulment, or judicial separation.


  (5) "Governing instrument" includes, but is not limited to, a will, testamentary instrument, trust agreement (including, but not limited to a totten trust account under 7-5.1(d), insurance policy, thrift, savings, retirement, pension, deferred compensation, death benefit, stock bonus or profit-sharing plan, account, arrangement, system or trust, agreement with a bank, brokerage firm or investment company, registration of securities in beneficiary form pursuant to part 4 of article 13 of this chapter, a court order, or a contract relating to the division of property made between the divorced individuals before or after the marriage, divorce, or annulment.


  (6)  "Revocable,"  with  respect to a disposition, appointment, provision, or nomination, means one under which the divorced individual, at the time of the divorce or annulment, was empowered, by law or under governing instrument, either alone or in conjunction with any other person who does not have a substantial adverse interest, to cancel the designation in favor of the former spouse, whether or not the divorced individual was then empowered to designate himself or herself in place of the former spouse and whether or not the divorced individual then had the capacity to exercise the power.





This section of the Estates, Powers, and Trusts Law is provided as part of a free educational service by J. Douglas Barics, attorney at law for reference only. Statutes and codes such as EPTL 5-1.4 are frequently amended, and no representation is made that the above version of EPTL 5-1.4 is current. Updated statutes and codes may be available at the New York State Legislature Website. No statute should be relied on without understanding controlling case law which may further interpret it. An attorney should be consulted for legal advice.


If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact Mr. Barics at lawyer@jdbar.com or (631) 864-2600. For more articles and information, please visit www.jdbar.com.


J. Douglas Barics, Esq. – Divorce, family, matrimonial, trial and appeals lawyer in Long Island, New York



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