In previous generations, husbands traditionally handled the family finances. While this arrangement may have worked well during the husband’s lifetime, the consequences of the wife’s lack of involvement in the family’s finances often became clear after her spouse died. Today, more women are actively directing the outcome of their personal finances, and for good reason.
Women need to plan for a time when they may be on their own. Through divorce, widowhood, or personal choice, the odds are high that a woman will be independent at some point in her lifetime. Financial planning is essential for women throughout life, but it becomes especially important in the event of remarriage, as financial arrangements may need to be made for ex-spouses and children.
If you are in a second marriage or about to remarry, you may want to consider the following important points about managing your personal finances:
Bank Accounts. Should married couples combine their bank accounts or keep them separate? Or, perhaps combine certain accounts and keep others separate? There is no right or wrong choice—this is a personal decision. An open and honest discussion may reveal whether or not you and your spouse are financially compatible regarding spending habits, saving, investing, debt, etc. If there is a marked difference in the way you both handle money, then separating your finances may be a better plan.
Prior Debt. Will each spouse be responsible for the other’s prior debt, and if so, to what extent? Keeping the indebted spouse’s prior debt separate may help ensure that the other spouse’s property remains out of reach from creditors.
Property Acquired before Remarriage. Owning previously acquired property in your own name can prevent the risk of losing personal property to your spouse’s potential creditors. Also, doing so may have estate tax benefits. Keeping your property in your own name can help to minimize estate taxes while providing an inheritance for children from a previous marriage.
Home Ownership. Many married couples choose to title property jointly as tenants by entirety. When one spouse dies, the home passes to the surviving spouse tax-free. However, there may be estate tax consequences when the surviving spouse dies. Be sure to consult with a qualified tax professional beforehand.
Retirement. Saving for retirement is one of the major financial goals for married couples. Women, in particular, have unique concerns when planning for retirement. First, women typically live longer than men, so their retirement income needs to last longer. In addition, women often spend more time out of the workforce than men as a result of caregiving responsibilities, and therefore are less likely to have pensions and full Social Security benefits. According to the U.S. Department of Labor in 2013, when women work, they typically earn 82 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts. Consequently, the gap between gender incomes makes it especially important for women to prepare for retirement.
Insurance. Disability income insurance can help replace a portion of your income in the event you are unable to work due to sustaining an injury or illness. This type of insurance provides funds that can be used for bills and expenses. Similarly, life insurance provides a death benefit that can be used by your family. Proceeds can help ensure that children from a prior or current marriage can attend college, the mortgage can be paid, and the surviving spouse has some replacement income.
Estate Planning. It is important for blended families to plan for the final disposition of assets. Trusts can be a valuable tool to minimize estate taxes and to help ensure that your assets are distributed to heirs according to your wishes. For example, at your death, your assets can pass to a trust, from which your surviving spouse will receive income without direct access to the assets. At the death of the surviving spouse, the assets can then pass to children from your current or previous marriage. This provides ongoing income for your surviving spouse and an inheritance for your children, as well. In addition, if the surviving spouse later remarries, the trust can be designed to preclude your assets from their marital or community property.
Every woman who remarries needs to balance her financial past with her financial future. By addressing the management of your personal finances as soon as possible, you can avoid disputes and build financial independence for your extended and blended families.