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The potential perils of remarriage

While remarrying can prove fulfilling, it also comes with risks.

About 50 percent of first-time marriages end. The rate of divorce is even higher for subsequent marriages, though. According to some sources, as many as 65 percent of second marriages and 74 percent of third marriages don't survive. Those statistics are startling, but once you understand a bit more about the dynamics - including the risks and rewards - of remarriage, they make more sense.

Aside from the heightened divorce risk, remarried couples face a wide array of challenges, particularly if they have children from previous relationships. There are implications for estate planning, retirement funds, pensions, family heirlooms, custody arrangements and more.

The estate planning conundrum

Intestacy laws favor the spouse. If you die without an estate plan in place (such as a will or trust), your spouse will generally inherit most - if not all - of your property. There is a caveat, though: most bank accounts, pension funds and insurance policies come with beneficiary designations, so those assets pass to a specified loved one. Because of this, remarriage without careful estate planning could end up leaving children from a previous relationship out in the proverbial cold. This is well-illustrated with an example:

  • Imagine that you and your new spouse each have a child from a prior marriage. A few years into your union, you pass away, intestate. Intestacy laws dictate that all assets will go to your spouse. Your child will only inherit any property for which you've named him or her as a specific beneficiary (such as bank accounts and life insurance policies). This means that when your spouse dies in the future, your hard-earned assets, family heirlooms and more will pass along to your step-child instead of going to your own flesh and blood.

Unless you definitely intend to disinherit your child, it is of vital importance that careful estate planning happens prior to or shortly after your remarriage.

Custody of minor children

If a subsequent marriage takes place while the children from prior relationships are still minors, custody arrangements could come into play. This is particularly true if the remarrying spouse has primary custody. Will the children stay with their stepparent if their primary caregiving parent passes away? Will they return to their non-custodial parent or other biological relatives instead? These considerations deserve due care because they are very important to the entire family.

Advance inheritance/gifting

Of course, one way to prevent the issue of inheritance is to pass down property before death. If there are family heirlooms you want your children to have, go ahead and gift them. Don't wait until your death, when those items might be considered the property of your new spouse. The deed to, for example, a generations-old family vacation home can be transferred ahead of time, as can other physical property, cash and more.

Remember this

None of this is meant to discourage you from seeking love - and marriage - the second time around. It is simply meant as a precaution. In the midst of a new romance, particularly a whirlwind one, it can be difficult to see the potential downfalls of marriage.

If you do decide to end a subsequent marriage, make sure you have the advice of experienced divorce counsel before proceeding. In some cases, it's possible to avoid property disputes by settling things amicably, or a contested legal proceeding may be necessary. In Upstate New York, contact Bartle, McGrane, Duffy & Jones, LLP. From a Troy law office, our attorneys help clients throughout Albany, Schenectady and the surrounding areas. Call us locally today at 518-880-2243, toll free at 800-575-9604, or send us an email.

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