By Linda T. Cammuso
February 14, 2011

Saint Valentine’s Day – either you love it or you hate it. Many dismiss it as one of the so-called “Hallmark holidays,” while others celebrate it with enthusiasm. Whether or not you’re a Valentine’s Day enthusiast, chances are that the day causes you to at least reflect on the state of your relationship with your significant other. As lawyers, it reminds us that the fragile nature of human relationships always has a deeper legal implication. This is true especially for couples in second marriages. Whether on Valentine’s Day or any other day, no one wants to think that their relationship might not succeed. But the reality is that the divorce rate for second marriages is higher than that of first marriages. Even if the marriage is a success, second marriages present unique asset planning and protection challenges.

Unfortunately, many people who remarry fail to talk or even think about the legal and financial implications beforehand. These issues aren’t always easy to address, but avoiding them only leaves you open to surprises and heartache down the road.  Start the discussion soon and take the time to sort through your thoughts before you talk. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Money matters – particularly if one of you has more assets or higher income than the other
  • Budget
  • What are your respective credit ratings
  • How you will pay bills: Will you maintain joint or separate checking accounts, and will your other assets remain separate
  • Debt: how much is each party bringing into the marriage and who will be responsible for the debt after you are married
  • Medical insurance
  • Your respective home or condo situations
  • Family matters –  if one or both of you are bringing children into the marriage
  • If you have college-aged children, how will the marriage impact financial aid
  • Inheritances: Those you expect to receive and what you expect to leave for others when you die
  • Beneficiary designations for retirement accounts, pensions and life insurance policies
  • Estate planning: Wills, trusts, powers of attorney, health care proxies etc.
  • Prenuptial or postnuptial agreement: Should you have one
  • Long-term care issues: Do either of you have long-term care insurance, and do you intend to help each other pay for long-term care/nursing home expenses

Just because you haven’t thought about these issues doesn’t mean you haven’t already impacted your legal and financial realities. Many couples are shocked to discover that just the act of getting married invalidates their existing wills. This means, for example, that if a person established a will leaving his assets to his children, the will becomes null and void the moment he remarries. Couples may also find it unnerving to discover that their marriage has exposed their respective assets to each other’s long-term care/nursing home expenses, even if they have maintained separate assets.

Like all other aspects of your relationship, the keys to achieving legal and financial security are: Open communication – you need to have “the talk.” Then you need to schedule a meeting with an objective and qualified estate planning and financial professional to help turn your goals and desires into legal and financial realities.

For more on this topic, click here Second marriages pose challenges in estate and benefits planning.

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