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In 40% of marriages in 2013, at least one partner had been married before, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of census data. These new families must, in addition to combining households, merge their financial lives. Discussing upfront how they’ll handle this can minimize hurt feelings and resentment later on.
Here are a few key steps to help partners clarify their financial situation. Both spouses need to:
Take inventory. It’s important to identify the assets and liabilities each partner brings to the union, and decide how to handle them. If one spouse has significant debt, how will the two spouses manage it? If they set up a plan to whittle it down, they should agree on the general amounts each person will contribute.
Similarly, if one spouse holds significant savings or investment accounts, both partners should decide how to treat these assets. If the spouse expects to leave the assets to children from a previous marriage, the new partner should be aware of it.
Complete any paperwork. After both partners have developed a plan for handling these financial questions, they’ll want to check that the paperwork is in order. Otherwise, they may find their wishes thwarted. For instance, if a former spouse remains listed as the beneficiary of a retirement account, he or she may receive the asset — even if the account owner intended it to go to a new spouse. (It’s important to note that, in community property states, a former spouse may be entitled to a portion of the account.)
Consider a prenuptial agreement. Although many people find the idea of a prenuptial agreement distasteful, it can be a wise move. This is particularly true when one spouse would like children from a previous marriage to receive, for example, a business or personal property brought into the new marriage. If these wishes aren’t spelled out, the assets may not pass down as intended.
Seek legal advice. Laws regarding the treatment of assets in a divorce and remarriage are complicated and can vary by state. Obtaining competent legal advice can minimize the risk of unwelcome surprises.
Plan for the long haul. Spouses should communicate their different approaches to earning, spending and saving. While two people are rarely completely in sync, each should understand how the other approaches financial decisions.
When it comes to preparing for remarriage, communication is essential. Prospective spouses should identify issues, discuss ways to approach differences, check for any legal and financial ramifications, and, finally, find common ground.