If you work for a company which offers health insurance you probably already know about open enrollment.    Updates you choose during this time period will determine your health, dental and vision insurance for the upcoming year and your tax savings in deductible plans like Health Savings Accounts (HSA’s).   While the timing of open enrollment can vary with different employers, open enrollment is generally the period between November and mid-December.  During this time you are able to make changes to your health insurance plans without a major life change.  You can choose to renew your participation in your company’s current insurance plans, switch to a different one, and make changes to participants on your plan for the upcoming year.  Even though it can be tempting to select the plan you had last year so you don’t have to put in much effort, I’d encourage you to pause for a moment and consider if that’s really the best option from a benefits, tax, and budgetary viewpoint.

It Is important to remember if you are still in the midst of divorce, you will likely need to add your current spouse on your health coverage during open enrollment elections for the new year.  If you are under temporary orders (which you likely are) do NOT remove your current spouse from your health coverage right now for the next year.    You can remove your spouse from your health insurance coverage in the new year after your divorce is final as that will count as a major life change.

While you will keep your spouse on your current coverage, it’s important to look at your coverage options and make sure you have the right one for you. After you divorce is final in the new year (or the end of this year), you will remove your spouse from your coverage and this will be your plan for the rest of the year.  Are the deductibles proper for you?  Are you eligible and participating in the HSA? Is this the right plan considering minor children you will have on your plan?  This and other issues are important to consider.

1. Evaluate Life Changes

The amount of coverage you need plays a big role here, especially if you previously covered dependents and/or your spouse and no longer need to or vice versa.  Some other life changes in addition to divorce could make a difference in the plan you choose during open enrollment include births, deaths and medical issues.

2. Review Beneficiaries

Open enrollment time is a good opportunity to revisit the beneficiaries on your accounts.  For example, if you have group life insurance, you may still have your ex-spouse as the beneficiary.  Once the divorce is final you will need to remove your ex-spouse from the beneficiary designation unless you want your ex-spouse to be the beneficiary, and in that case you will need to re-assign that person as the beneficiary after the divorce is final.  Your ex-spouse will be skipped over on a life insurance policy payout unless they are specifically designated in a divorce decree and/or you rename them as beneficiary on the policy after the divorce is final.

We encourage you NOT to list minor children as beneficiaries on an anything.  Minor’s cannot receive payouts without a court appearance and a guardian. Guess who will be the guardian for your children if you pass while they are minors?  It will be your co-parent or ex-spouse unless they predecease you.  If you want to leave the proceeds to your children you will want to create a testamentary trust (included in your will usually and what I have personally) or a revocable or an irrevocable trust.     All of these involve a trip to an estate planning attorneys office which we highly recommend after the divorce is final.

For now, while the divorce is still pending, list your spouse as beneficiary. You are likely under temporary orders to do so. After the divorce is final it’s time to do some estate planning and likely change the beneficiary.

3. Understand the Benefits of the Plans You Select versus Your Needs

This is a great time to make sure you’re getting the coverage you need and you’re maxing out the tax savings from it.   Take the time to review what’s included in your plans, any tax credits or benefits you’re eligible for, and options outside of your employer-provided plans.  That way, you know you’ll actually use everything you’re paying for.  The reality is, it comes down to saving money and being tax-efficient, especially with an HSA.

Another big issue we see with divorcing couples is the deductible and the corresponding out of pocket costs.  You may have a fight on your hands (and undue stress from such a fight for you and your children) if your spouse is living paycheck to paycheck and you opt for a plan with a huge deductible.  Paying hundreds of dollars to meet the deductible for a simple sick visit to the pediatrician may not go well for an ex-spouse on a limited income or at least be an issue to address while you are in divorce proceedings.  Conversely, if there is a large surgery to pay for or a medical issue to be dealt with which is known for the upcoming year, it’s wise to perform a cost analysis on how much it will cost you to have this covered at a higher percent even with a large deductible versus a lower percent of coverage with a lower deductible.

Medical costs can be an enormous part of the annual budget.  The good news is you have coverage and choices, the bad news is sometimes those choices, especially in the midst of a divorce, can be overwhelming.   To make sure you’re getting the biggest benefit, tax savings, and coverage you and your family actually need, talk to a trained consultant who can guide you through the process.

If you’d like me to help you with health care selections during open enrollment season or any other financial related issues, I’ve opened up more Divorce Strategy Sessions on my calendar in late October and early November for those who are not current clients and want some extra help with financial related issues.   In my Divorce Strategy Sessions, we will discuss your needs, your options and your budget so you can make the best choices for you and your future!!  Click here to learn more about Strategy Calls and schedule yours today!