You can’t help it. It’s not that you are wishing evil upon your spouse while you are going through a divorce (okay, so maybe you are!). But you can’t help wondering every now and then: what would happen if my spouse just died? While that would certainly make your divorce go away, it would also make your ex’s child support payments go away. Because of that, it’s worth paying attention to the ways you can secure child support after death.
Child Support After Death: Hindsight is 20/20
While most people assume that their ex will be around to support the kids until they are grown and gone, life doesn’t always work that way.
If something happens, and your ex dies, your kids are going to suffer. Not only will they suffer emotionally, but they also might take a huge financial hit, too.
Your ex will no longer be able to pay child support. S/he will no longer be able to contribute towards the kids’ extracurricular activities or private school tuition. S/he will no longer be around to pay part of the kids’ medical bills. What’s more, if your ex was carrying the kids on his/her medical insurance, that will be gone too.
So who will support your kids after your ex dies?
Answer: You. Just you.
But, Won’t the Kids Get an Inheritance?
Lots of divorcing parents ASSUME that their ex will provide for the kids when s/he dies.
But, assuming anything is dangerous.
Even if your ex has the best of intentions, s/he may not have any money when s/he dies. Inheriting one hundred percent of nothing still leaves your kids with nothing.
Plus, whether your ex has money or not, you have no control over what s/he does with that money after your divorce. If your ex spends every penny before s/he dies, your kids will get nothing. If your ex leaves everything to his/her new spouse, parents, or favorite charity, your kids will get nothing.
What’s more, by the time you realize that your ex left your kids nothing, your ex will be dead. It will be too late to change anything.
To make matters worse, at that point, you won’t even be dealing with your ex anymore. You will be dealing with his/her parents, siblings, or new spouse. As challenging as it may have been to deal with your ex about money, dealing with your ex’s new spouse about money will be worse.
So, what can you do?
How can you make sure that your kids are not left destitute and that your ex somehow provides child support after death?
Here are 6 tips for making sure your kids are provided for if your ex dies.
6 Tips for Securing Your Kids’ Financial Future if Your Ex Dies
The best time to provide for child support after death is WHILE your divorce is going on. You can secure child support in several ways:
- You can require your ex to maintain life insurance naming the children as beneficiaries for as long as s/he has an obligation to pay child support or pay for any of their expenses (including college); or
- You can require your ex to maintain enough money in an irrevocable trust that names the children as beneficiaries for as long as s/he has an obligation to pay child support or pay for any of their expenses (including college); or
- You can require your ex to maintain the children as beneficiaries of his/her retirement accounts or any other bank account that has enough money to pay child support and of the kids’ expenses (including college);
Of these 3 options, the most practical is usually life insurance.
Most people don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars that they can put in an irrevocable trust for their kids. If they have money in any other kind of account, nothing will stop them from using that money while they’re alive. Obviously, if they use their retirement account up before they die, there will be nothing left for the kids to get.
Write your divorce documents properly
If you want to use life insurance to secure child support, your divorce decree has to say that. It has to specifically require that your ex maintain life insurance in a certain dollar amount for a certain period of time.
If your divorce judgment doesn’t specifically require your ex to maintain life insurance, then your ex doesn’t have to do so.
It’s also important that you make sure that your ex is required to keep enough child support to cover his/her obligations to your kids. For example, if your ex is required to pay child support, and maintain medical insurance, and pay half of the kids’ medical and educational expenses until they’re 18, then s/he has to have a life insurance policy that’s big enough to pay all of that!
The same thing is true of college expenses. If your divorce judgment requires your ex to contribute to your kids’ college expenses, then his/her life insurance policy should be big enough to make sure that happens.
Make sure your ex actually maintains his/her life insurance policy after your divorce.
It doesn’t matter what your divorce decree says. If your ex never buys a life insurance policy, or if s/he doesn’t pay the premiums on the policy, there will be no death benefit for your kids to get.
Because of that, you would be wise to put a proof requirement in your divorce judgment. You want your judgment to say that your ex has to provide you with proof that his/her life insurance is in effect at least once a year. Or, if you know your ex will never give you that proof, you want to have the right to get proof directly from the life insurance company.
Then (and this is the hard part!) you have to actually look at the proof every year! Remember, no life insurance policy means no support for your kids if your ex dies.
What’s good for the goose …
If you really want to secure your kids’ financial future, remember that you count too!
Even if you’re not making a lot of money (and especially if you are!) you are providing support for your children. What happens if you die?
Term life insurance is typically not that expensive. As soon as you can afford it, think about getting a policy on your own life as well.
Consider Funding College Accounts Now.
Not every state requires divorced parents to contribute to their kids’ college education. But anyone can have a provision in his/her divorce judgment imposing that requirement on one or both parents. (That’s not to say that every parent will agree to do that. But, it’s worth a try!)
If your divorce judgment requires you or your ex to contribute to your kids’ college expenses, smart financial planning dictates that you start saving for college sooner rather than later.
Sure, you can have a life insurance policy that secures your kids’ college expenses too. But, with college education costs spiraling ever upwards, it might not be feasible for you or your ex to get a life insurance policy that’s big enough to cover child support, medical insurance, medical bills, extracurricular activities, educational expenses, AND college expenses too!
Plus, your life insurance policy only kicks in if you die. If you’re still around when your kids go to college, what will happen then?
Don’t forget about Social Security.
In most cases, children are entitled to receive social security benefits if one of their parents dies while they are underage.
Regardless of what your ex did or did not leave to your kids, make sure that you don’t leave money on the table. Collect the benefits that your children are entitled to receive.
Don’t Kick the Can Down the Road
It’s easy to not deal with the issue of death when you are going through a divorce. There are so many more pressing concerns, and death seems so far away. Figuring out how you will support your kids if you or your ex dies seems like just one more argument you don’t need to have.
The problem is that it is much easier to negotiate this issue during your divorce than it is afterward. While you’re going through a divorce, you’re negotiating everything. Once you’re done, you’ll be so emotionally spent that you won’t want to negotiate anything again for as long as possible.
Plus, after your divorce, you lose your leverage. If you ask for life insurance to secure child support after death and your ex says no, your only option is to take your ex back to court. Going back to court to fight over just one issue – especially one that you might never need – is expensive.
The other problem with waiting until after your divorce to think about securing child support after death is that we’re all human. Procrastination is real. Unless you provide for child support after death while you’re going through your divorce, chances are, you won’t do it at all.
If you’re lucky, it won’t matter. But if you’re not …
Excellent article, Karen! I’m glad that I stumbled upon your article because I’ve been thinking about how child support will affect my children. I think you’re absolutely right: it’s important that you’re planning ahead in your kids’ financial future. I’ll be sure to follow your suggestion by making sure my ex maintains their life insurance policy. Thanks for the great tips; you’ve been very helpful!
You are very welcome! Glad this helped!
All the best.
I was wondering….? my kids are grown now and their father never paid me one dime in child support that was issued to him during our divorce. It seems somehow he has beating the system getting his drivers license and hunting papers. But it was brought to my attention that when he dies I am entitled to his social security. Of course he always worked cash jobs so they had no paycheck to garnish. Is that true.???? His back child support debt is over 43,000.00. But my kids are now in there late 20’s and early 30’s. I guess I am just sick over it because my kids turned out to being doing great and very successful and he had nothing to do with them until they were raised and all the hard work had been done and people are always commenting to him on how well mannered they are and how hard of workers they are. And he acts like it is all because of his doing. I’m sorry, but it makes me sick to my stomach. How would you advise me on this manor. And just to let you know also, my kids know/remember their father never did anything for them and they Thank me all the time for being both parents during their childhood, I never talk bad about their father and never allowed them too as well…. But I am soooooo feed up always trying to do the right thing.
You have presented me with a tough question (actually a tough series of questions)! Unfortunately I can not answer your questions online like this. I would need to know a whole lot more about your situation to be able to advise you on this. Also, as an Illinois lawyer, I can not give you legal advice if you live in any other state.
What I can do is tell you that you may have more options than you think. I strongly suggest that you seek out legal advice from a good divorce lawyer in your area. Bring a copy of all of your old divorce papers with you when you do, so your lawyer can have complete information about your situation. (FYI Many lawyers give free consultations, so this might not even cost you anything.)
There are also agencies (both public and private) that can help collect past due child support in appropriate circumstances. Again, I can’t comment on whether they can help you, but you really should check this out. Start with a private divorce lawyer. Get information. Go from there.
I realize this is an old thread but I have just one question. My Ex passed away 2 months ago and unfortunately our divorce decree does not state he shall continue to pay child support after his death. Nor does it state UNTIL his death. I know that he has a group life insurance policy and I’ve been told that it will go to our daughters trust (I am assuming his father is trustee).
I am hesitant to bring up the issue of child support payments to his family as I don’t want to stir the pot. and what i should do with all of the post-dated checks he’s written to me.
I don’t want to sound the alarm here, but you need to talk to a lawyer in your area as soon as possible. I don’t know what your divorce judgment says, and I can’t give you legal advice online, but I can tell you that, as a general principle, child support payments usually end at death. That is why the court generally requires support payors to get life insurance policies. The life insurance policy is intended to replace the support that someone obviously can’t pay when they are dead. I can’t say whether this applies in your case. You mentioned a trust. Maybe the trust will pay support. I don’t know. The point is — neither do you! What’s worse is that you might be running up against time deadlines here. You need to talk to an attorney as soon as possible, just to find out what is going on and what your options are.
My ex husband dead in 2008. We have a daughter together. He had no will but comes from a very wealthy family (he died at 27 years old) who does not help out. Millions and millions of dollars and nothing… I do not feel entitled to anything BUT my daughter who is 11 with Autism should get some financial help from my ex’s family. My ex also worked for his father when he passed away. Is it a lost cause to fighter for her? What are my options?
The only thing you can do is to talk to a lawyer in your area and find out what your options are. A lot depends on the law in your state, what your divorce decree says, and what your ex-husband’s will said. I can’t advise you on this, but I can tell you that you need to consult with a lawyer asap. There may be time limits involved in your situation. I can’t say for sure, without knowing a lot more about your situation. So, the best thing you can do is to consult with a good lawyer in your state as soon as you can.
My daughter’s father was diagnosed with cancer unfortunately he won’t be in her life much longer. I know she is entitled to social security benefits but he also has assets that are in his father’s name (grandparent). Can the grandfather screw my daughter out of her inheritance because his name is in joint signature with the son on all his assets including insurance policies
I’m sorry but I can’t answer your questions. I can’t give legal advice online or outside of the state of Illinois.
Yo’re going to have to find a good lawyer in your area to get answers to these legal questions.
Thank you for writing this article. My ex died in February of last year, and I am surprised at how few articles there are online regarding the topic. Plenty of articles about the death of a spouse and kids, but few regarding the death of an ex-spouse and kids. My ex and I had four kids and his death rocked us, because it was completely out of the blue and unexpected. He was only 43 and dropped dead from an undetected heart condition.
I am thankful that he worked his entire life, and I now receive a substantial amount in monthly social security for my younger two (older two are adults). The social security is actually far more than the child support was. Additionally, following our divorce I remained as his beneficiary for his work life insurance policy. All-in-all, I am better off finically now than I was before his death; however, the emotional impact has been significant, to say the least. I would not wish being a single parent on my worse enemy, but I am clear that it would be far worse without the financial benefits.
Again, thanks for the article!
You’re welcome! I am so sorry for your loss. My condolences to you and your family.
We both got situated with life insurance policies as we dealt with our impending divorce. We had 2 kids together during our marriage. Shortly after the life insurance policies were in effect, my soon-to-be ex-wife received a cancer diagnosis. She would not have been able to obtain the type of policy we now have in place. None of us can be assured we’ll make it back from the mailbox on any given day. Such an important article! Thank you!
You’re welcome! Thanks for sharing your experience.
Hi Karen, thank you so much for writing this article, and your common sense approach to divorce!
As a Holistic Financial Planner I deal with insurance quite a bit. And with divorcing women. In addition to what you’re suggesting, I also like the option to buy the life insurance on your ex yourself, if you are not sure your ex will continue to pay the premium, and let the policy lapse after a couple of years. So you’re the owner, he’s the life insured. This way you know for sure the premium is being paid and the policy is active…. and no horrible surprises if something does happen. To offset the extra cost, you may be able to get the support payment increased by the amount you’re paying in premium. This way you’re not out of pocket, and have full control. As a lawyer, you would know best how this would have to be written up in the divorce documents.
If somehow that’s not an option, at least be written in the policy as irrevocable beneficiary. This means he can’t change the beneficiary (to his new wife for example) without your written consent.
I know rules etc are different in the US, from Canada, but life insurance policies in general have these components, so should work anywhere.
These are good tips! Thanks.
Appreciate this article. My kids father passed away 4 months ago and I am currently dealing with all this issues so I am grateful for your article.
Keep it up.
Great article! My ex passed away when our four children were young if it had not been for the social security benefits, I don’t know how we would have survived. The hospital informed me of this benefit, otherwise, I would not have known. Cheryl
It’s a good thing the hospital told you about it!
This may be a strange situation for support. Seems no one has an answer.
California, divorced and ex goes on trips with our daughter a lot. Ex has substantial money , Family, Income, Investments. They came home and our daughter had become the host for bed bugs. It was so sad to see her get bit. They invaded our home, right????, ex’s home stayed fine. Concluded that the top 6 reasons bed bugs end up with you were actions only my ex did with our daughter. The vacation they took. right before the bugs was to a Maui Resort that has had bug issues since 2013. I work at home and seriously go no where except to shop and drop and pick up daughter.
I have worked hard to exterminate the bugs. can’t do heat ( common wall, landlord claims no responsibilities, Really can’t tell neighbors to discuss or we would be the bad. kids ) and won’t do chemicals so I am doing it all myself and with In a 7 week period of staying awake most of every day to kill them, cleaning, steaming, vacuuming, a man I know has helped some going into baseboards and walls to look and stop them from coming back I have spent 5k. Also had to turn some work down because it required me to travel and I did not want to travel for ethical reasons of not spreading them. I am so tired and ex and I have spoke about the money I was spending and now ex will not talk about the money and will not pay half or really anything. Ex did pay 1800.00 after I found a natural application with a soy based product that actually worked yet. only around our beds. The rest of the home was a clean disaster zone. Just thinking of them kept me awake. Now 7 weeks down the road I have asked for ex to pay some at least 1/2. Ex now refers to bugs as “my bugs”, ” whats going on there”, “I have little money and just spent in on this gross gross problem”. What are your thought s if this is something you might comment on.
You’re right, this is a strange situation!
What you’re asking, though, is for legal advice, which I can’t give you online or outside the state of Illinois. You would need to ask these questions of a California lawyer. You’ll also need to ask a second question: if you do go after your ex, what will THAT cost you?
It sounds like this whole ordeal (and it sounds like a huge ordeal!) has cost you 5k. Your ex paid $1800. So you’re still out $3200.
What you need to find out from a California divorce attorney is: Can you go after your ex for reimbursement for that $3200 and for any other extermination costs you continue to incur? How hard will it be to win that case? If you do win, what are you likely to get? (ie will the judge give you FULL reimbursement or is it likely that the judge would split the expenses 50/50 between you and your ex. I know that splitting it might not make sense. After all, your ex’s behavior caused this problem. BUT, even still, this is a question worth asking your lawyer.) Also, what will you pay in lawyer’s fees to win that case?
After you have answers to all of those questions, you’ll be in a better position to try to figure out whether going after your ex makes sense. If you’ll only end up paying more in attorney’s fees then you stand to gain from your ex, then going after him probably doesn’t make sense.
Sorry I can’t be more helpful with this gross problem. But you really need to talk with a California divorce lawyer.
oh my I forgot to add this.
Thank you for this great article. My attorney did not ever address these subjects. I have much research to do because. of your article. Thank you so very much.