“Numbers never lie, after all; they simply tell different stories depending on the math of the...
Sudden Wealth Through Divorce
Sudden wealth is not often thought of when one is in the process of getting divorced. Divorce is typically a traumatic experience that reduces wealth, not increase it. However, for one of the spouses, the process of a divorce may find them managing their wealth on their own for the first time. Even if it is half of the total when married, it is new for that partner to manage.
They may have many questions, like:
Where do I go to get help?
Seek out a wealth advisor who has experience working with clients who have gone through the divorce process. There are “divorce financial advisors” but be careful because some credentials are just marketing gadgets. Also, understand there are two parts to the process of helping a person while going through a divorce. First is the actual divorce. We believe a person going through a divorce should consult both a lawyer and a wealth manager. No explanation needed why someone going through a divorce should seek consultation from a lawyer.
Unfortunately, in too many cases the divorcee doesn’t also consult with a wealth manager to ensure the assets are divided equally and fairly. If one lawyer has a significant knowledge advantage over the other in regards to how accounts are structured and the tax implications, the other spouse might end up with less wealth even though on paper it appears to be equal. This is especially true if either party has stock options, 401(k), IRA Roth accounts, or pensions.
What financial advice do I need?
In many cases, people don’t even know what questions to ask. That is perfectly fine and much more normal than those same people realize. A good wealth manager will ensure you know which questions to ask, if you haven’t already. A great question I love to hear is “what questions should I be asking or did I miss?” If you find a wealth manager that you trust and are comfortable with, don’t worry about what questions should be asked because the questions are the easy part. We are here to assist you.
What about the house?
In an already emotional time, people going through divorce need to remove emotions from the decision process more so than at any other time. This is even more challenging if your children are involved. The desire to stay in the home to make the divorce less disruptive to children or to hold onto family memories is a very understandable wish. On the other hand, some people going through divorce don’t want to stay in the home due to painful memories. Understanding what staying, selling, or letting the spouse keep the home means from a wealth management perspective is extremely important.
There are special tax laws for the sale of a house. In 2022, most homeowners saw their house values increase significantly over the past 4 years. In the current tax codes, a couple get a one-time tax exemption for the sale of their home, which is up to $500,000 in gains for a couple and $250,000 for a single tax payer. Future tax liabilities must be considered when dividing the assets.
If a spouse decides to stay in the house, make sure you consider any major repairs needed such as an air conditioning unit dying or a roof needing to be replaced. An escrow account may be wise.
What about the future?
As mentioned above, this is typically a very emotionally charged period in a person’s life. The uncertainty created by a divorce goes beyond money, but money is a major concern. Too often the stress and worrying would be much less if the person is informed. It is easy to put off planning when going through a divorce. However, stress takes years off our lives.
A financial plan will actually help you go through the divorce process. Knowing how an IRA, 401(k), and Roth IRAs will or will not be impacted by taxes is crucial for a fair division of assets, as well as helping you understand your future.
College planning should be part of the planning if one has under-aged children. How much is enough?
If you are receiving alimony or child support, does the receiving spouse have insurance on the paying spouse? How much is needed, not just today but after including inflation?
What about future impact on social security and Medicare?
It is best to know the answers to all these questions before the divorce is final. A good plan will help you sleep better.
What about the children?
Children have their own set of financial planning. The most pressing for many is college planning. There are many ways to help plan for college spending like 529 plans, cash value insurance, and Roth IRA accounts. This part is relatively easy to plan for clients.
There are other things to consider though. One is estate planning. Have you updated your beneficiaries, unless specifically required in the divorce decree to name a certain party? A good beneficiary review should be discussed annually but even more important after a major life changing event like divorce. Is your guardian going to change? Is the division of your assets going to change?
The last thing we want to do is over-whelm anyone going through this process because we know this is a major life event, even if it might be a very joyous one. We work at your speed. The first step is the easiest step, which is just prioritizing what help you want from an advisor. If it is none because you can do it all on your own? Great. Or maybe you just need help ensuring the division of assets are fairly divided or managing the assets. If you are not sure, we offer a complimentary consultation to help you. This is your meeting, which means we talk about what you want to discuss.