Keeping Some Green in Gray Divorce

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from the Albuquerque Journal
11 Sep 2016
By Sarah Skidmore Sell

Divorce can be painful — emotionally and financially — for anyone. But when the split happens later in life, the economic impact is more severe.

A growing number of older adults are facing this problem: the divorce rate among U.S. adults ages 50 and older doubled between 1990 and 2010, according to a study out of Bowling Green State University. About one in four divorces includes someone over 50. Susan Brown, who led the research, says a review of the data through 2014 found the rates have stayed about the same in subsequent years.

Reasons for the rise include longer lifespans, more women in the workforce, changing notion about marriage and higher rates of remarriage, which boost your odds of splitting.

We asked a few experts to weigh in on what to do when divorce suddenly becomes part of your retirement plan: GET YOUR TEAM TOGETHER Gather a team of professionals to guide you through the process, such as an attorney, mediator, financial planner, accountant and therapist. In a gray divorce, that financial expert is particularly important because of the lifetime of assets built up and the immediacy of retirement.

“It’s a terribly emotional time and getting objective information is key,” said Dede Jones, a financial planner in Colorado. “The mistakes you can make through the process are far more expensive than the help.”

DECIDE WHERE TO LIVE

Refusing to budge over the family home makes emotional sense, but staying might not make the best financial sense, said Janice Green, a family law attorney in Texas.

Be open to alternatives that will leave you in a better position. Selling a home or opting for other assets in the settlement may provide the income you will desperately need in the years ahead. And downsizing can dramatically help manage your costs moving forward.

“The more that I can get people to be creative about the future, it helps remove some of the fear,” Green said.

FIGURE OUT HOW TO GET BY

The biggest challenge for someone going through a gray divorce is ensuring there’s enough income for retirement, said Terri Munro, a financial planner in Georgia.

A nest egg built for one couple must suddenly stretch to sustain two households. Women who stopped working to raise kids find that alimony is less common than it used to be. At least one spouse may already have retired and find it difficult to find work at this stage.

“You have to weigh up and reassess what your options are based on what the settlement is,” Munro said.

That may mean delaying retirement, returning to the workforce, downsizing your home, selling a vacation property or making other lifestyle adjustments. Jones said she has seen clients drive for Uber or rent out parts of their home to make things work.

You may have to reconsider commitments to adult children, such as paying for a wedding or grad school. You also may need to make catch-up contributions to retirement accounts and draw down from savings in different ways than planned.

DON’T FORGET YOUR HEALTH

Healthcare can be expensive in retirement, so divorce planning must consider how to pay for health insurance post-split.

Once divorced, you won’t be able to stay on a spouse’s employer plan. Medicare is not available until age 65, and there may be costs for any supplemental insurance.

Munro suggests considering long-term care insurance that would pay benefits if you needed at-home care or a stay in an assistedliving facility. Without a significant other, you do not have that safety net of a spouse as a caregiver. Be warned: finding a reasonablypriced plan gets harder as you age.

UNDERSTAND YOUR ASSETS

Estimating the true value of your assets over time, as a financial planner can help do, is crucial to plan properly for retirement.

“I can guarantee you there will be elements of the financial plan that have unintended consequences,” Jones said.

A professional can also discuss the tax implications of those strategies. For example, older clients who have built significant home equity may face capital gains taxes if they sell, which divorcing younger adults would not, said Sara Stanich, a financial planner in New York.

DO YOUR PAPERWORK

Don’t neglect the details. Update all the legal agreements and accounts you’ve set up during the course of your marriage, from bank accounts to deeds. Pay special attention to wills, estate plans and beneficiary designations for retirement accounts.

If you don’t update your will, Jones said, most states will invalidate it when they see a couple has divorced. Not so for beneficiary designations. If you’ve split and forgotten to change your beneficiary on your 401(k), your ex will get your cash whether you want them to or not.

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