At a time when young people are waiting later and later in life to marry, divorce rates among those age 50 and over have more than doubled since the 1990s. ‘Silver’ or ‘Gray’ divorces began to get more attention after rumors started to surface about an impending split between Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne after 30+ years of marriage back in 2016. (Don’t fret, they didn’t split.) But as Silver divorces are on the rise, so are Silver marriages, with most of those marriages being the bride and groom’s second (or third) marriage. Chances are that at least one partner has children from an earlier marriage and voila! You have a blended family.
Blended families are complex and require some careful planning and consideration before the nuptial. If you are ready to remarry midlife, here are some questions to discuss with your beloved as you prepare to merge your lives and families together.
Will my social security benefit be less if I marry you?
If you were married to your first spouse for at least 10 years and made less money, your social security benefit is evaluated based on that spouse’s earnings record. Once you remarry your benefit will be based on the new spouse’s earnings record – they won’t let you pick whichever one is higher. If your finance’ has a lower earnings record than your former spouse, be aware of this detail that could amount to thousands of dollars of lost benefit over a lifetime.
How are we going to set up our accounts?
There are plenty of valid reasons to not set everything up as joint property. There may be an inheritance that needs to be kept separate or checking accounts shared with adult children of a former spouse. But keeping an asset separate is not the same things as keeping it secret. All assets (and especially liabilities) should be disclosed to one another and a good financial advisor can help you both decide the best way to register or title them once you marry.
How are we going to ‘do the money’ together?
Who’s going to pay which bills and when? What systems and structures are we going to use to budget or set goals? Usually, one person in a couple is more inclined toward the financial stuff, but that doesn’t mean the other should be in the dark about where finances stand. Talk to your partner about your preferences and comfort level with managing cash flow and household expenses and make decisions about who is responsible for what. You don’t want to wait until the lights go out to realize that, no, she didn’t pay the power bill and you both paid the cleaners twice.
Should we file our taxes MFJ or MFS?
As a married couple, filing your taxes jointly will usually give you the most tax benefits, but there are certain situations you should at least consider filing separately. If one partner has excessively high unreimbursed medical expenses in a given tax year, filing together will make it harder to reach the medical expense deduction threshold. Another situation is if one of you defaulted on your student loans. If you file jointly and are due a joint refund, the funds will be rerouted through the Treasury Offset Program and used towards the unpaid debt. If you file separately in that situation, at least one of you gets to keep your refund.
How much financial responsibility do I want to take for your children?
Unexpressed expectations are premeditated resentments, and resentments ruin marriages. It is imperative that you and your partner discuss and decide the extent to which they want to financially support the children. Are you expected to pay college tuition or for the wedding of the stepchild you’re not fond of? These are tough conversations to have but some honest communication now can have big payoffs when the issues come up. Some couples keep a simple “I’ll pay for my kids; you pay for your kids” policy and some decide to split expenses evenly on all the children regardless of who belongs to who. The point is to talk about it.
How much responsibility do I want to take for your debt?
When you marry, your debt becomes marital debt no matter where it came from, so proceed with caution. Talk to your partner about whether you want to approach the pay-off as a team using joint assets or if you prefer that each partner tackle their debts solo. The more awkward conversations you have about money before you remarry, the better.
Who is going to take care of Mom?
Increasingly, baby boomers find themselves becoming the primary caregivers for aging parents at home with most of the caretaking falling on the shoulders of women– regardless of who’s parent it is. If no long-term care arrangements have been made for your partner’s elderly parent, it’s time to get one in place. Call a family meeting to discuss how, where, and who will take part in their care. If you have no interest in caretaking, state that fact early on and stand your ground.
How are we going to handle end-of-life decisions?
If you have a health crisis, you can’t assume that your new spouse will be able to make medical decisions for you or chose treatment options, especially if there are adult children involved in your care. It’s important to have an advanced health directive on file which will explicitly spell out your wishes. The last thing you want in your final hours is for your spouse and children to be at odds with each other. You can set one up here and have it stored electronically so your physicians and family can have easy access to it.
These are just a handful of the important (and uncomfortable) conversations you should have with your partner before you remarry. If you find yourself procrastinating or avoiding bringing up these topics, consider hiring a financial professional that specializes in blended family issues. They can take you and your partner through these topics one by one, laying the groundwork for many years of remarried bliss.