After she lost her second husband in 2007, Edie Tolchin started dating again at the age of 53. It was when she met Ken Robinson, who was a widower himself, that things got serious.
“Some people don’t like marriage,” said Tolchin, who lives in New Jersey in the US. “Some people want to be by themselves. I definitely enjoyed being married. And I was lonely.”
In 2014, at ages 60 and 63, they tied the knot.
But unlike most newlyweds, who simply bask in the newness and bliss, one of the first things they did as a married couple was visit an estate planning attorney. There, they drew up a plan that addressed both their marriage and Tolchin’s two children from a previous marriage. “We have that all taken care of,” Tolchin said.
Unlike most newlyweds, one of the first things they did was visit an estate planning attorney.
Second (or third) marriages later in life can create a variety of challenges, since both partners often enter the union with significant assets accumulated over decades of earning. And, there are often grown children, grandchildren and inheritance issues.
“There is a lot to be considered at this point,” said Howard Pressman, a financial planner with Egan, Berger & Weiner in Washington, D.C.
In the UK, the number of men getting married in their late sixties has gone up by 25% and the number of women has gone up by 21%, according to the Office for National Statistics. In the US, 67% of people ages 55 to 64 who were previously married get married again, according to the Pew Research Center, and 50% of those 65 and older remarry.
You are making a financial commitment to that person.
If you’re thinking of walking down the aisle again — perhaps with a little more grey hair this time — here’s what you should keep in mind.
What it’s going to take: It takes some planning to determine how tying the knot is going to affect all your assets. Marriage — especially at this stage of your life — is about more than companionship.
“What you need to be really aware of is that you are making a financial commitment to that person,” said Julia Chung, a financial and estate planner with JYC Financial in Langley, British Columbia, in Canada. “I think when people are in retirement or they’re older, they don’t think of it that way.”
How long to prepare: You need long enough to make sure you understand how marriage will affect your finances and to discuss how you want things to work. “The first thing we do is spend a lot of time talking about their wishes in terms of how their assets will get distributed after their death,” Pressman said.
It's also important to realise that this is the person who usually becomes the default decision maker in the event that you’re incapacitated — and vice versa — unless you have financial and healthcare powers of attorney that name someone else. You’ll have to talk about what your wishes are in those circumstances. If you can’t have these kinds of conversations before you get married, you may want to rethink binding yourself legally to that person.
Do it now: Find out what marriage means in your area. Depending on your state, province or country, marriage means different things, legally. In Canada, for instance, the Family Law Act is different for every province.
“It could be that the assets you came into the marriage with are yours, and yours forever,” Chung said. “It could be that after a certain period of time, those assets are up for splitting 50/50, which is a big concern when somebody has built up those assets over many decades.”
The same goes for different US states. “Every state has different rules on what happens when you get married, when you divorce and when you die,” said Vickie Adams, a financial planner in California in the US. “Marriage is a contract. You definitely want to understand how that will impact you.”
There are different rules on what happens when you get married, divorce and die.
Review your government benefits. Depending on where you live and your situation, marrying could affect the government benefits you’re receiving. In the US, a spouse’s income may affect your supplemental security income or cause you to lose the benefits — or any financial support from a previous marriage — you’re getting as a divorced spouse.
In Canada, if you’re receiving the Guaranteed Income Supplement, a spouse’s income could place you out of the income bracket for the benefit. It’s a good idea to check with a financial planner or with your government benefits office directly.
Think about taxes. How does combining incomes affect your tax bracket and what you’ll owe going forward? “Suddenly you have double the income,” Pressman said. “It’s conceivable that you would move up one tax bracket for at least part of your income.”
Consider a prenuptial agreement. This is a document that clearly specifies what happens in case the marriage doesn’t work out. Going to a lawyer and getting a prenup may not seem romantic. “But it’s the most romantic thing you can do,” Chung said. “You’re saying, ‘You are my loved one and protecting your assets is important to me’.”
Discuss estate planning and other wishes. It may seem morbid, but linking your lives legally has an impact on what happens to your assets when you die. So, you'll need to modify any estate planning documents already in place to reflect your new family situation, or create new ones. For instance, many people with children from a previous marriage want to ensure that their children will still inherit something after they die.
If it’s not written and in a legal, binding document, it means nothing.
“Something that I’ve seen first-hand is where second marriages occur, and one spouse passes away and all of the assets were titled jointly, so they all go to the surviving spouse,” Pressman said. “Then the surviving spouse says, ‘Hey, I’m not leaving anything to their kids,’ and suddenly you’ve got this big problem.”
In some countries, there is the opposite issue. In France, children are “protected heirs,” so they are entitled to receive a proportion of their natural parent’s estate. “In the absence of appropriate planning being undertaken, if the survivor is a step-parent, he or she may be poorly protected,” said Daphne Foulkes, a partner with the Spectrum IFA Group in France.
If it’s important to you, take care of it legally — and make it official. “If it’s not written and in a legal, binding document, it means nothing,” Pressman said.
Do it later: Revisit your beneficiaries. Once you tie the knot, go back through all of your accounts with beneficiaries — retirement accounts, insurance policies — and make sure the beneficiaries are still whom you want them to be. You may want to take an ex-spouse off the paperwork, for instance, or split assets equally between your children and your new spouse.
Do it smarter: Sit down with your family. Ideally this should happen before you get married, but if it doesn’t, it should definitely happen after the wedding vows. Let your children know what’s happening with the family finances and how your marriage affects them — because they probably have questions.
“As a rule of thumb, the best thing we can do is be as transparent as possible,” Chung said. “You can say, ‘I’m creating a plan, and these are the concerns that the lawyers brought up, and these are the ways we’re talking about dealing with them.’”