Kate Ashford: 5 financial steps to take before marrying later in life

Getting married when you’re an older adult comes with complications: You and your spouse may have assets from years of working, and you may have children from previous relationships. Tying the knot could affect your Social Security benefits if you’re widowed or divorced. You will need to update estate documents and beneficiary designations, and you may even want to consider a prenuptial agreement.

Working together to create a financial plan that incorporates your new family structure is essential. Here are the steps you should take if you walk down the aisle in your later years.


Before you marry at this stage of your life, have a frank conversation about money with your spouse-to-be — and consider involving a financial professional.

“Working with a planner can really help because there can be some conversations that people aren’t used to having,” says Jaymon Meikle, a certified financial planner in St. Joseph, Missouri. This is a time to set expectations: Are you keeping your money separate or commingling your funds? How will you divide expenses going forward? What will happen when one of you dies?

Even if you aren’t combining finances, you must understand your partner’s financial situation so you can organize your tax planning, from tax bracket management to Roth IRA conversions. “There has to be coordination,” says Rob Schultz, a CFP in Encino, California. “You can’t do financial planning for one spouse and not consider the other spouse’s situation if they’re married.”


A new marriage is a significant change in legal and financial status, and your financial plan should incorporate it. That means, among other things, updating beneficiaries on all accounts, since beneficiaries trump anything you have in a will.

“What we do typically is we have all the beneficiaries laid out so nothing goes through probate,” says David Demming, a CFP in Aurora, Ohio. “That’s where we have the dialog: Who do you want to have these funds?”

Check both primary and contingent beneficiaries to ensure that you still agree with your choices — and that there are no surprises. “Someone has come to me after a death and we go through what they’re going to be receiving,” Schultz says. “And their current spouse had an ex-spouse as a beneficiary, and that’s heartbreaking.”


You or your betrothed may be coming into the marriage with significant assets or property, and if you ever divorce, that can get sticky. A prenuptial agreement can outline what you owned before the marriage and what will happen should the marriage end.

“Usually there’s a primary goal that drives what the focus of the prenup is,” says Kaylin Dillon, a CFP in Lawrence, Kansas. “If it’s to make sure you have protections in place for children from a previous relationship, that prenup is going to look very different than if your primary goal is to make sure that income from a family business remains separate property.”

If you have property, significant retirement assets, a pension, a business ownership or an ownership interest in a family business, or you have children from a previous relationship, it’s something to think about.

“Prenups are really flexible documents,” Dillon says. “Contract law leaves a lot of room for people to be creative.”


Marriage affects your Social Security benefits, so make sure you understand the ramifications of taking that step. If you’re not yet 60, remarrying makes you ineligible for any survivor’s benefits if you’re a widow or widower. If you’re divorced, remarriage means you can’t collect benefits based on your ex-spouse.

“That’s something to consider, especially if Social Security is going to be a significant portion (of your retirement) or something you’re going to depend on,” says Kassi Fetters, a CFP in Anchorage, Alaska.

Your financial professional can advise on this, or you can call your local Social Security office for more information.


One of the considerations of marrying later is whether and how you’ll leave assets to any children you may already have. If you die without a will, your assets will generally go to your spouse. A trust gives you more control over the inheritance you want to leave.

Consider if two people — Bob and Susan — marry each other, and both have children from a previous marriage. “If Bob predeceases Susan, the worry could be that she’ll take the inheritance and give it to her kids,” Meikle says. “You can lay things out in a trust so that Susan is still taken care of while she’s alive, but then Bob’s money will go to Bob’s kids and Susan’s money will go to Susan’s kids.”

An estate attorney can assess your situation and recommend a trust that will accomplish your goals.


This column was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Kate Ashford is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: kashford@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @kateashford.


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