One year ago Al and Tipper Gore announced their plans to divorce after 40 years, 3 children, 8 years of vice presidency, and one presidential campaign. The announcement was a shock not only to the public, but to their friends and family as well. After all, if marriage isn’t safe after all that, what is safe?

But these later in life divorces (casually called “Grey Divorces” by the media) are becoming more common than we’d like to think. The sad situation between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver is just the most recent reminder that even marriages which seem to have stood the test of time are not completely secure.

A recent article in Forbes suggests that there are a number of reasons why “grey divorce” is on the rise (including increased life expectancy, the more accepting values of Baby Boomers, and women’s increasing financial independence) and that women who think they might be facing a late in life divorce would do well to take steps to protect their financial assets.

Unless you are a business owner, the first thing a woman should look to protect during a divorce is her retirement assets. As the Forbes article rightly points out “Many women –and some attorneys, too! –often make the mistake of assuming that their divorce settlement agreement will fully protect their rights to their portion of their husband’s retirement account. This is usually not the case, and that’s why it’s critically important to use a properly prepared QDRO [Qualified Domestic Relations Order.]” Many women these days have their own retirement assets, and in these cases it is important that the divorce settlement clearly address how your—and your husband’s—retirement assets will be divided.

And as long as we’re talking about retirement assets, don’t forget to change the beneficiary designations on your accounts after the divorce. Too many couples fight through a (sometimes contentious) divorce, only to unknowingly leave their ex-husband a fortune upon death because they forgot to change their investment and insurance account beneficiary designations.

The very nature of a grey divorce—a divorce that occurs after years of partnership and sharing—means that family lineage assets and heirlooms often end up lost as casualties of divorce. While it’s true that inheritances are considered separate property at first, once it is mingled with joint property the inheritance becomes joint property as well. However, asking relatives to leave large family assets to you in trust is one way to keep those assets out of the joint property pot. (Keeping assets in trust has the added benefit of protecting the assets from creditors and litigation, as well as divorce.)

Women business owners have much more to consider when they find themselves facing a divorce. Your share in a business which you have started and/or grown during your marriage will be considered as part of the marital assets during a divorce, and as such will be divided by the court between you and your ex.  “If your marriage’s other financial assets cannot meet that obligation, the money resulting from the sale of your business—which typically happens at a fire sale price, due to court-ordered deadlines—will help make up the difference.” Too many successful businesses have been destroyed in order to pay the share to which the ex-spouse is entitled.

Women in their later years have more options and opportunities than ever before, but this also means that they carry more risk. If you fear you may be facing a divorce, or if you are considering a late-in-life marriage or remarriage, take steps immediately to protect your hard earned assets. Our office can help you determine what your greatest strengths and greatest weaknesses may be, and how to protect yourself and your assets.

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