Do You Need a Wedding Planner or Financial Planner?

I got some exciting news recently.

A friend of 20+ years announced she was getting married again!

I hosted a celebratory spa day for friends – my idea of a 50-something bachelorette party!  Amidst all the girl banter that day, we learned that another dear friend, a successful divorced tech entrepreneur from San Francisco, also 50-something, was also engaged.  Having just gotten married myself for the first time in mid-life, I realized that our small gathering of women was typical of a growing demographic in our country today:  women entering into first and second marriages later in life, often with meaningful assets and income in tow.

What financial advice would I give to women who forge a new union in mid-life?


Second marriages have a higher failure rate than first marriages, and one has to wonder to what extent not being financially prepared factors into this statistic.  However, getting prepared for a mid-life marriage is a tricky balancing act.  Nothing intrudes on romance like money discussions.  But it is in the spirit of a truly harmonious future together that open and honest money discussions can succeed.

Here are six areas you should review before walking down the aisle.

Prenuptial Agreement – This contract spells out how assets are divided in the event of a divorce or death.  Weren’t we all surprised when we learned Paul McCartney did not sign a prenup with Heather Mills – “What was he thinking?!” we all thought.  Your assets may feel paltry in comparison to the former Beatle’s wealth, but they are as valuable to you as his are to him.  A prenup is not the exclusive domain of the ultra-wealthy and is warranted under many circumstances, including:

  • you own assets like a home and/or investments
  • an inheritance is in your future
  • you own a business
  • you have your own children
  • you have a budding new career with high income potential among many others
A prenup will save you a lot of emotional pain in the unfortunate event of a divorce.  It will allow you, not a court, to decide what happens to your assets.  Find a good family law attorney to help you and be sure you and your partner each agree upon the choice.  Do some research on premarital agreements before your first meeting to come prepared with questions.

Yours, Mine, or Ours? – Sort out how expenses will be paid and where income will be deposited before you get started in a new life together.  One, two, or three bank accounts?  There is no one proven way to make this work – it is what works for you.  Titling of assets also requires careful thought – if an asset brought into the marriage is retained in your own name, there is a greater likelihood you will retain it in divorce, but no guarantee.  This is where a prenup is most valuable.

Retirement Plans – It is easy to forget to change the beneficiaries of our pension plans and our 401(k)s.  Be clear and upfront with each other about your respective intentions with these assets in the event of divorce or death.  Has a prior divorce agreement already committed some or all of your new mate’s funds?  Do you want your children to benefit from your 401(k)?  If you are not sharing some or all of your retirement funds with each other, you will have to notify your plan administrator, get your new spouse’s waiver, and include your plans in your prenup and your will.

Retirement planning gets more complex when we look at Roth IRAs and IRA Rollovers.  Consult with your financial advisor or CPA on the most tax-efficient disposition of these assets in the event of death or divorce.

Investments and Insurance – Consider who you need to protect and who will be receiving your assets in the event of divorce or death.  Are there children from a first marriage?  Elderly parents?  Do you have strong philanthropic intentions?   Planning vehicles like trusts and life insurance are common solutions for protecting those persons and entities we have grown to care about so much.  Your will and prenup will drive this protective planning and any existing insurance policies need reviewing for beneficiary designation language.

Your Business – Your business can become subject to divorce proceedings even if you owned the business prior to the marriage, and your spouse never assisted you with, or even showed any interest in, your business.  In fact, the value of your business’s growth during marriage goes into the marital pot.  A privately owned business is often one of the most valuable assets in a marriage and its high relative valuation may put the company itself at risk if you don’t have adequate financial liquidity to affect the divorce agreement.  This is serious enough that there are attorneys who specialize in “divorce proofing” for successful women business owners embarking on marriage!  It’s likely your greatest asset and should be given great care and protection in advance of a new marriage.

Debt – We tend to worry about protecting our assets.  Liabilities are as, if not more, important.  Do you know your new mate’s debt load, their credit history, and whether there are any liens or judgments against them?  Debt incurred by your partner outside the marriage is not your responsibility.  However, any debt incurred inside the marriage, whether your name is on it or not, and whether you know about it or not, is your co-responsibility.  Communicate, communicate, communicate.

Although there are many financial aspects to getting married, these are six places to start.  The full financial impact of a mid-life marriage is much too complex to discuss in this brief space.  Put the brakes on the wedding planner and first assemble your pre-wedding team of financial advisor, family law specialist, estate planner, CPA, and other relevant professionals.  Good advance planning is the best investment you can make in your new union.  It will help free your future together from financial worries and conflict.