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In Virginia, parties are considered to be separated when they no longer live together as husband and wife and when there is no possibility of reconciliation and one party has the intent to separate.   Separation is not a divorce; a divorce occurs upon court order.  So, what happens if a spouse dies while the parties are separated but not divorced?  The separation itself has no effect itself on inheritance rights by the other spouse.  If you die without a will, your spouse will inherit your estate.  If you die with a will, your spouse may still be entitled to a portion of your estate (but it will be less than if you have no will at all).  A separation itself does not revoke previous wills; you need to do a new will if you intend to make changes as it relates to your spouse.  A separation itself does not necessarily revoke powers of attorney or advance medical directives; if you no longer want your spouse to have those abilities, you need to have them changed.  A separation itself does not automatically revoke beneficiary designations; you need to change them where permitted (some retirement plans and other accounts may not let you change beneficiaries without spousal approval).  Even after a divorce, do not assume that beneficiary designations are automatically revoked.  Check with each plan, policy and account to be sure you have taken all steps to protect yourself.  It is important as you proceed through a separation and divorce to also be talking to an attorney who does wills, powers of attorney, advance medical directives and estate planning to be sure you are protecting all aspects of your future.

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