Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Remarrying after 60? It's all in the details

"You may think this undertaking should be left to younger hearts. But love has given us the courage to venture boldly into the sacred country of marriage, admitting our wrinkles, we allow them to show themselves bravely, and our bones know the weight of years." - Maya Angelou from Letter to My Daughter

My kids and some of my friends have asked me why I need to remarry at 64? The answer is simple....because I want to, because if I'm going to live with someone I'm going to be married to them, because I'm old fashioned, because I like the statement of commitment that being married makes, because I love the guy. Married is the way I want it.

Having said all that, getting married after 60 (or after 75 as my mother did when she married Howard), offers some challenges...mostly around defining what's mine, what's his and ours in terms of money, assets and debt. So over the past six months Ken and I have been working our way through the marriage planning process that involves a prenuptial agreement, term life insurance and a yet-to-be completed list of tangible assets such as furniture, art work and other household items. Oh there's the party, the cake and the shoes.

All of the not-romantic planning is intended to ease the burden on the surviving spouse when one of us dies and at the same time, help our adult children (three of his, two of mine) work their way through the challenges of settling an estate.
So what does a prenup do? It spells out what's his and what's mine in terms of real estate, separate debt and some tangible assets.

 In our case, it also says that a surviving spouse can continue to live in our shared house until either they die or relocate. Then the house must be sold and the equity dispursed. Why be forced to move in six months when you've just lost your spouse?

Real life stories

Time out for a couple of sad stories. My friends tell me these stories on a regular basis. The first story is about an unmarried 60-something couple who decided to build a new house together in Seattle, a nice house, an expensive house. He drops dead half way through the construction project. She's left with an unfinished house and not enough money to pay for it on her own. His kids certainly aren't interested in financing their dead father's half of the project.

 The second story is about a 70-something couple that decided to buy a house together. Same deal.
 He dies and she can't carry the mortgage debt alone. The down-payment money is lost, she's on her own, grieving for her lost partner, without a home.

Term life insurance policies with the surviving partner as beneficiary would have helped in these situations where the survivor has no claim to the deceased partner's assets or money. We've set that up as well. The fact is that in your early 60s you can buy a $250,000, 10-year term life insurance policy through several reliable online Web sites at a cost of less than $1,000 a year. That seems reasonable considering the alternative disastrous outcomes. All pretty straightforward.

Making a list

Really, the most challenging aspect of this is the tangible assets list. When you combine households, grandma's china can end up stored in someone's basement. Or that favorite piece of wall art from your childhood is suddenly hanging over your new step-father's fireplace. Is it tacky to ask for it back, if your mother dies?

Or from the surviving spouse's view, as in my mother's case, the daughter shows up with a U-Haul trailer and loads everything that was her father's out of the house less than a week after the funeral. The lowest point was when she took the bed that my mother had shared with Howard out of the bedroom and replaced it with a ratty thing from the basement. And they took the easy-chair from the living room that 15 minutes earlier my mother had been sitting in.

So the list. Whether you're in a second or third marriage or have been married to the same person for 50 years, a list of tangible assets spelling out who gets what and when is a good idea. Even then, there could be fights.

Prenup details  A recent Wall Street Journal story made the point that prenuptial agreements are becoming more common in second marriages and should be signed at least three months in advance of the wedding so that there's no possibility that someone was pressured into signing it. Each party needs their own legal counsel to review the document before signing. Oh, and full disclosure in terms of assets is required.

With all these things in place (accept for the list), we marry on Saturday. There will be champagne, carrot cake and a sing-along to the tune of "A Bushel and a Peck."

For more on prenuptial agreements and late in life marriages go to:
"After the Loss of a Spouse, There is no Right Amount of Time Before Moving On, " WSJ, click here.
"Reasons not to marry or remarry" - USA Today, click here.
"Who says prenups aren't romantic?" - WSJ.com
What's a prenup? - Click here.
"Unromatic, but important" - USA TODAY
Prenup agreements at About.com.
"More couples are saying 'I do' to prenup agreements" - Seattle-Times

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