If you or your partner are on a second marriage or committed relationship, talking about money becomes even more important. Sarah Halpin, Certified Financial Planner and Vice President-Investments with The Danforth Group of Wells Fargo Advisors, has some questions to consider when you are planning on sharing your life again.
Studies have shown that money is a frequent topic of arguments in many marriages. Add children, divorce agreements or inheritances and handling the finances can become more stressful.
Yours, Mine and Ours: Most older individuals already have their own savings, checking and investment accounts. As a couple have a candid discussion around how you will handle the finances. Which accounts will you keep separate and which accounts will you combine? Having separate accounts lets each of you feel independent, knowing that you can tap your finances whenever the need arises. On the other hand, joining accounts can help unite your financial goals and create a more effective savings program for larger financial goals such as saving a down payment to buy a home.
Budgeting: Some say that the key to financial success is to spend what you have after saving, rather than saving what's left after spending. Once you sit down and estimate your monthly income and expenses as a couple, it then becomes a matter of budgeting to control expenses and setting money aside to help achieve your goals. How much will you contribute to joint expenses? Are you going to take turns paying the bills or pay bills together? Are you going to agree on limits to each of your discretionary spending? How are you going to plan for larger expenses such as cars, vacations?
Debt: It's important to know each other's attitude and experiences with using and accumulating debt. Have you shared your credit score? Do you know the amount of debt each of you is bringing to the marriage and how it accumulated? If there is debt, decide whether to combine it or to keep separate credit histories and records. If one of you has a poor credit history, it may be advisable not to commingle debt in order to retain the other's better credit rating. Do you agree that you will jointly decide when it's acceptable to go into debt?
Estate Planning: Addressing estate planning is vital, regardless of your age and especially important in the case of a second marriage and blended families. There may be an expectation that assets accumulated in a first marriage will benefit any children of that marriage. However, a new spouse may not have enough assets to provide for their retirement in the event they were to become widowed. Also pay attention to updating beneficiary designations on life insurance policies, IRAs and 401(K) plans. These designations supersede instructions for distributing assets included in a will.
Agree to share your finances on a regular basis and work as a team to discuss money in the context of your shared goals and values.