What Financial Precautions Should a Widow Take Before Remarrying?

Carrie Schwab Pomerantz

11/21/2012 12:01:00 AM - Carrie Schwab Pomerantz

Dear Carrie: I'm a 62-year-old widow and plan to remarry next year. My children are concerned about protecting my savings. What precautions should I take, and how can I keep my fiance from feeling that I don't trust him? --A Reader

Dear Reader: There's a lot of sensitivity around money and marriage at any age. In your circumstance, as a widow with whom I'm assuming are grown children, feelings can run even higher. Chances are, you're not just dealing with dollars, you're dealing with emotion and your children's attachment to their father's memory.

If your children are open to your remarriage and genuinely concerned about your financial wellbeing, that should make things a bit easier. But no matter what their concerns, you and your fiance need to have an open and honest discussion about your mutual finances so that each of you is protected.

Consider a Prenuptial Agreement

Joining lives and money when you're older -- especially the second time around -- can be complicated. And if one or both of you are bringing substantial assets into the marriage, seriously consider working with an attorney to write a prenuptial agreement.

Even if you decide against a formal legal document, openly discussing your finances and putting your decisions in some type of written format is essential. It should also allay some of your children's worries.

As you mention, you also want to be sensitive to your fiance's feelings. When you bring up the topic of money, make sure he understands that it's not a question of distrust, it's a question of understanding and future harmony.

Sit down together in a comfortable environment and approach this as partners. Agree to listen to each other and honor each other's concerns. Complete disclosure is essential.

Here are some questions you should answer now so they don't become problems later on:

 --Will you keep assets separate? You can consider all assets acquired before the marriage separate and those acquired after marriage joint. Alternatively, you can continue to keep all assets separate. It's a good idea to consult an attorney so that you clearly understand the laws in your state regarding property ownership, including issues like commingling.

--What will you do with your homes? Will you sell your current homes and share equity in a new home? If one of you moves into the other's home, will you change the title to joint ownership? If you keep your home, and you want your children to inherit it, ask your attorney about the safeguards needed to maintain individual ownership. In any case, an attorney can help both of you protect your interests.

 --Who will be financially responsible for what?  Be clear on the expenses you'll share and those you'll keep separate. When it comes to everyday accounts, a "yours, mine and ours" approach works for many couples because it allows for both joint and individual spending decisions. If one of you is responsible for a child or other dependent, discuss how that will impact your day-to-day finances.

 --How will you handle debt?  While marriage doesn't make you responsible for one another's existing debts, agree now how you'll pay off those you bring into the marriage. Also discuss your opinions about debt as you look to the future.

 --Will you file a joint tax return? In the vast majority of cases, married couples benefit by filing a joint return. There are exceptions, though (for example, when one person has high medical costs), so discuss this with your tax advisor.

--What about medical and long-term care insurance? Make sure you each have sufficient medical coverage. If one of you becomes disabled or has significant medical expenses, decide how you'll pay for it as a couple.

--What happens if you divorce? Discuss your feelings about things like spousal support and retirement savings. Many states will allow you to waive alimony. A spouse may also waive rights to retirement benefits.

Talking about these issues is sure to raise others. Once again, an attorney can help you put everything on the table and explain your choices.

Revise and Refine Your Estate Plans

Your children may be particularly concerned about their inheritance. You and your fiance should specifically discuss your individual responsibility to children and grandchildren -- or any other dependents or family members -- and how you want to provide for them. Be sure to remember your late husband's wishes for his heirs and be certain to honor them as you draw up a new will or trust.

While you're at it, update beneficiaries on all pertinent accounts, such as retirement plans, pensions or annuities, and make certain all assets are titled correctly.

See a Financial Advisor Together

Depending on the complexity of your financial situations, it would be wise to consult a financial advisor together. An advisor can walk you through different scenarios that will help you protect your individual assets while forging a new, supportive financial relationship.

Talk to the Kids

Last but not least, be upfront with your kids. Tell them the agreements you've come to and how you're protecting yourself. If you decide to draw up a prenuptial agreement, think about giving them a copy. Also, talk openly about your estate plan so there are no surprises.

If they know that you're taking care of yourself, as well as including them in your new life, perhaps you'll all be able to approach the future with confidence while lovingly remembering the past.

Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER(tm), is president of Charles Schwab Foundation and author of "It Pays to Talk." You can e-mail Carrie at askcarrie@schwab.com. This column is no substitute for an individualized recommendation, tax, legal or personalized investment advice. To find out more about Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.