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Marriage Later in Life

The U.S. Census Bureau recently reported more than 30% of adults older than 60 have remarried after being divorced or widowed, and this rate is increasing. There is no age limit for love and romance, but there are some legal and financial matters to consider unique for those marrying later in life.

Several years ago, my father called me from Las Vegas to tell me he had just married. Since I had no knowledge of him dating anyone, this came as a shocking revelation.

He told me marrying later in life is not as complicated as it is when you are younger. All us kids were grown and living our own lives. Both my father and new stepmother were retired. They each yearned for companionship and a partner with whom they could travel and share adventures.

Older adults are usually more financially stable, have learned to work through life’s challenges, focus less on trivial conflicts, and are more independent. However, that does not guarantee everything will be sunshine and roses. Each spouse will bring in their assets and debts; often, one or both couple have children from a prior relationship. These can add complications to any relationship.

Protecting Your Assets When Marrying Later in Life

Consider a Prenuptial Agreement

Before tying the knot, consider the merits of a prenuptial agreement.

Julie Aguilar, a family law attorney and shareholder with the firm Cowles Thompson, says a prenuptial agreement can be helpful for any couple, but particularly so when one spouse brings significantly more assets into a marriage.

“It is a common occurrence for there to be an asset imbalance between a couple, where one is contributing greater wealth than the other,” Aguilar said. “This could be the case where one spouse owns a house with a paid-off mortgage and the other does not, or if one spouse built a successful business over their working career while the other was primarily a homemaker.”

Effectively protecting both spouses’ interests is a critical objective of a prenuptial agreement. For a couple already married, a post-nuptial agreement is an option that can be just as useful in attaining these objectives.

Don’t Commingle Property

As a community property state, Texas law presumes all assets a married couple holds are community assets — meaning, they are considered half-owned by each spouse.

However, there are exceptions to this general rule.

“Any property you own before your marriage is your separate property, as well as any property you receive by gift or inheritance,” Aguilar said.

The best way to retain the property you owned before your marriage as your separate property is to keep it in your individual name. If you comingle your financial assets, it will be much more challenging to determine which portions are a spouse’s separate property.

Discuss Debts

In addition to addressing assets, Aguilar also counseled that “couples should discuss how they will handle any debt they are bringing to the relationship, as well how they will handle future debt they incur together.”

If either partner has outstanding child support, alimony obligations, legal judgments, or bankruptcy proceedings, they should discuss this and its impact on their joint finances.

Be Aware of Common Law Marriage

Just because you have not held a formal marriage ceremony doesn’t necessarily mean you have avoided issues surrounding the characterization of marital property.

Texas recognizes informal marriage — also known as common law marriage — which has its own unique set of issues.

“If you and your partner agree to be married, live together as a married couple after this agreement, and represent yourself to others that you are married,” Aguilar said, “that is all that is required to establish a legally valid common law marriage in Texas.” [PW1]

Revisit Your Estate Plan When Remarrying

A critical task you should take upon getting married at any age is to revisit and update your estate plan.

In their wills, most married couples leave everything to their spouse but provide that, if their spouse has already passed away, the inheritance goes equally to the kids or half to each side of the family.

With blended families, this situation could be particularly problematic. Wills can be rewritten at any time, and whichever spouse survives has the final say on who receives what assets. It is not uncommon for widows/widowers to have me write new wills for them to leave everything to their own children — and nothing to their deceased spouse’s children, regardless of any agreements the couple had during their marriage.

There are planning methods that can protect against this, and an experienced estate planning attorney will be able to address the various means to ensure your wishes are honored.

Congratulations if you have found your soulmate or committed partner as a mature adult! If you are considering marriage, also consider the unique legal issues that arise with a union later in life.


Pamela Welch

Pamela Welch is an estate planning and probate attorney with Miller Law Office in Plano, Texas. For more information visit their website or call (214) 292-4225.

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