In the early ’90s, country singer Patty Loveless sang, Life’s about change and nothing ever stays the same—every day in this world, people get married, some divorce, and others experience serious illness or even the death of a spouse. While a time of transition may be challenging on many levels, being financially prepared can help to lessen the anxiety and stress. And according to local experts, early preparation is key, well before any major life event occurs.
“With marriage, you are merging different financial entities and attitudes,” says VP/senior financial planner Guy Hockerman of The Commerce Trust Company. “You’re potentially taking on someone’s credit issues from the past, so talking about those things is a priority.”
Because there are so many decisions to be made before tying the knot, executive VP/managing director Maurice Quiroga of PNC Wealth Management recommends a money management checklist for couples who are about to say I do. “Make sure that you have discussions around your assets: Will they be joint or kept separately? And how will they be titled once you do get married? It’s very important from a money management standpoint that these discussions happen before marriage, including the topic that no one likes to talk about: prenuptials.” Quiroga says that every financial aspect should be considered, including assets, debt and credit history. “Banks are evaluating someone’s credit history as a factor for future lending and banking opportunities, so it’s very important that those discussions take place very early on.”
And according to Quiroga, the estate planning process should begin as soon as the couple walks down the aisle. “The newlyweds need to start talking about wills, durable powers of attorney, health care directives and planning for children. Waiting until it’s too late is the biggest mistake married couples make. It’s never too early to begin discussions about retirement and college planning.”
Hockerman points out that preparing for a divorce also requires a look at your big financial picture while still working toward your goals. “Knowledge of what your financial position is and what you have, collectively and individually, in terms of assets, is important. If you see divorce as inevitable, it’s still part of a larger financial picture, and if you’re working toward goals, you’re going to give yourself more flexibility down the road. But don’t be naïve— understand what you have and recognize that not all assets are created equal as far as liquidity and tax implications. Be informed about what is on your balance sheet, what your needs are, and what your requirements potentially look like.”
When planning for the loss of a family member, Quiroga explains that there’s the basics of planning for the funeral, but when you’re physically at that life event, there are many other things to consider. “There are decisions to be made about paying income and estate taxes, and here’s a common mistake that people don’t think about: An insurance claim for death benefits is not automatic. A claim needs to be filed to receive life insurance proceeds—some people don’t realize that.”
Quiroga also points out that having a will allows beneficiaries to avoid probate. The main thing with any of these topics— marriage, divorce and the loss of a spouse— is all about planning as early as possible.”
Hockerman concurs that while long-term planning is essential, impulsive decisions also should be avoided. “Something that we have encouraged clients not to do is to make rash decisions, but to slow the process down and be methodical. It’s rare when these types of events require a radical change in the way you approach your financial situation. But when something comes up like an illness, death or divorce, people who are prepared tend to have more financial flexibility. It’s not about trying to anticipate everything that’s going to happen—it’s about building resources. A trusted adviser network makes the unexpected more bearable.”