What Do I Do with My Investments if I Get a Divorce?

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There are a number of reasons you may want to update your beneficiary designations on your investment accounts. Divorce might be one of them.

Money problems in a marriage can be a big part of a couple’s decision to divorce. In fact, a recent study found that 13% of divorced student loan borrowers attributed their student loan debt for the dissolution of their marriages.

Motley Fool’s recent article entitled “6 Tips for Managing Your Investments Through Divorce” says that the financial fallout from divorce can leave spouses struggling to recover.

While the divorce rate in the U.S. is dropping a little for younger couples, “gray divorce” is on the rise. The divorce rate for couples who are 50 or older has nearly doubled since 1990. The rate has tripled for those ages 65 and older, according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics and U.S. Census Bureau. Divorce in these older couples has the potential to be even more financially problematic, because they’re entering (or already in) retirement.

Here are some tips for managing your investments, while going through the divorce process:

  1. Update beneficiaries on your investment accounts. If you don’t want your soon-to-be ex-spouse to be the beneficiary to your investment accounts, remove his or her name and designate one or more new beneficiaries.
  2. Obtain access to all accounts. In many families, one spouse handles the family finances. If you are not this person in your relationship, make certain that you have all the information you need to access information about all your assets, including your investment accounts.
  3. Think about tax consequences and other penalties. Before you sell any assets, consider the tax ramifications and other potential negatives, like expenses or penalties. In many taxable accounts, selling securities can mean capital gains taxes. Annuities may have big penalties, if you leave early. There’s also the issue of timing: if your divorce takes place in a market decline, it might not be the best time to sell. You may agree to keep your holdings and divide shares evenly between the spouses, so you don’t have to worry about taxes or penalties if they can be avoided.
  4. Dividing taxable investment accounts. Splitting up these assets will have different processes, based on the type of account. For taxable accounts, like a brokerage account jointly owned with your spouse, you have to provide a letter to the financial institution requesting that the joint account be closed, and that new, separate accounts be opened in each spouse’s name.
  5. Dividing retirement accounts. In most states, retirement account assets generally are considered marital property. That means your spouse may be entitled to some of these assets. Many couples include specific terms about what will happen to retirement account assets in their divorce or settlement agreements. Dividing up retirement assets can be complicated, because different information is needed, and different rules apply depending on the type of account. Note that how you divide an account, might trigger taxes and fees that you’ll want to avoid if you can.
  6. Get legal assistance. Dividing financial assets during divorce can be complicated, so work with an experienced attorney. A lawyer with the right background can help with estate planning and other investment-related issues, as well as the tax issues.

Reference: Motley Fool (October 24, 2019) “6 Tips for Managing Your Investments Through Divorce”

 

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