According to a study by the Pew Research center, remarriages are on the rise. Four out of 10 marriages are now remarriages. Half of previously married seniors have remarried again.  What special issues do remarried couples need to think about when they get married a second time? 

Let’s say a couple each have children from a first marriage and now are getting married. What issues do they need to think about? Besides all of the family dynamics, there are all sorts of economic and personal issues they need to think about such as: income taxes; prenuptial agreements; pension, 401(k) benefits, Social Security benefits; cost sharing; and estate planning documents.

Covering all of these topics would require a book, so we are going to focus on one aspect, your estate planning documents.

Let’s use a real life example. A couple remarried in their 50s. They each had children from their first marriage. The husband died 20 years later. He wanted to provide for his second wife, so he had a will that stated all of his assets went to his wife, with the understanding that on his wife’s death those assets would go back to his children.  

However, what actually happened is that on the husband’s death, the surviving wife who lived a long time after that just combined all of their assets. On her death, the money went to her children. The husband's children were left with nothing. The husband‘s children did not believe their father meant that. He didn’t, but he didn’t plan properly.

So, what should he have done? He should have set up what is commonly called a marital trust. The trust would hold the assets for his second wife on his death, but upon the wife’s passing the assets have to go back to his children. The trust document prohibits the widow from transferring the assets to her children. If you are concerned about whether your wife will follow the terms of the trust, you should consider having an independent trustee, like a bank or trust company. If you don’t want that, you should consider having a third-party trustee. You need to choose a trustee that is right for your plan. 

As for other important documents, everyone should have a durable financial power of attorney, durable health care power of attorney and a living will declaration.  Remember that when you divorce or get married, you need to update your documents to reflect your new situation.

Additionally, remember that your estate planning documents don’t necessarily control the designation of beneficiary on your retirement plans, annuities or life insurance policies. If you fail to change the beneficiary, your assets may not flow to whom you think. You don’t want your life insurance proceeds to go to your ex-spouse instead of your new spouse or your children. Check your documents on a regular basis.

There is no one size fits all with regard to remarriages or updating your estate planning documents. But, since more and older Americans face this issue, you need to consult your personal team: your attorney, accountant, tax planner, other professionals and, of course, your family.

Laurie Steiner is a certified elder law attorney with Solomon, Steiner & Peck, Ltd.

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