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Later-in-life divorce: What you don't know can hurt you

Long-married couples are divorcing at a higher rate than in the past. By many counts, the rate among adults aged 50 and older is about double what it was in the 1990s. The consensus among experts for why this is happening seems to be that people are living longer. If the love is gone and you have decades left to live, it becomes easier to understand there might be a desire to make the final years happier.

Financial planners observe that this trend has one potential drawback. Divorce can leave both parties less secure in retirement. This might be especially true if the couple followed the once-traditional family model in which one spouse worked and the other stayed home to care for children. The prospect of divorce in that situation can make for a stark picture of the future and make division of assets a significant challenge. 

Most married couples have estates that are more complex than in the past - perhaps more complex than they themselves realize. For example, there are common assets, such as homes, bank accounts, durable goods like cars and boats. But there are more uncommon items that it can be easy to miss because they've been forgotten or were never thought of assets to begin with. This list might include:

  • Benefits from previous employers, such a stock options, restricted stock or pensions
  • Cemetery plots or other funerary arrangements
  • Collections of any kind that carry value but have been forgotten in storage
  • Club memberships
  • Intellectual property, even if such rights have yet to yield any income
  • Retained earnings, kept by a personal business for reinvestment
  • Life insurance policies, either whole or term

To be clear, this is an abbreviated list. Those with experience in this area of law know many more may exist and that truly equitable division of property requires identifying and valuing for all assets. 

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