Sixty, female and suddenly single — now what? How to navigate boomer divorce

The first thing you should do is … nothing. Then get yourself a financial adviser

Couples who once thought they would be sailing into retirement together are splitting up, leaving a raft of boomer-aged women, many of whom relied on their husbands to run the money, suddenly adrift. PHOTO BY GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCKPHOTO

COVID-19 has accelerated a lot of things, including, unfortunately, divorce. Couples who once thought they would be sailing into retirement together are splitting up, leaving a raft of boomer-aged women, many of whom relied on their husbands to run the money, suddenly adrift.

 

<“I’m done.” After more than four decades of marriage and kids, it can end as simply as that. It’s happening more often during the pandemic, with one spouse’s car often packed and a new apartment already rented by the time the announcement is made. As specialists in financial divorce, we are seeing a steady uptick in suddenly-60-and-divorced couples as they reassess how they want to spend their retirement years.

The implications for boomer-aged women are unique in that many, especially in higher income brackets, often hold more traditional roles within the family. Thirty per cent of women today are the family breadwinners, but the primary job for many women 60 years and older has been in the home. As a result, while both spouses grapple with emotional loss during a divorce, wives face the additional hurdle of being financially less informed.

That’s why we advise that the first thing women do is … nothing. Don’t sign any papers, don’t make any decisions and don’t leave your financial future in the hands of your soon-to-be ex-spouse. The second thing to remember is you need professional partners who have been doing this for years, and who can help you navigate a difficult and complex process. You don’t need to do it alone, or become an expert overnight in the family finances, budgets or retirement savings.

Start by interviewing three financial advisers and choose the one who feels like the best fit for you and will best protect and defend your interests — because they will need defending. Everyone starts out saying that this will be an amicable divorce, but that’s rarely the case. It’s going to get challenging at some point, even with spouses who say they are committed to splitting everything down the middle, 50-50. It’s often when they realize what 50 per cent really means that things get contentious.

 

At the first meeting, advisers should not be looking for a comprehensive list of assets and liabilities, although that will come. Their first question may be: Have you been sleeping? Or: Are you eating? No one can make informed decisions if they are in the midst of a traumatic situation and their minds are in fight or flight mode. Sometimes advisers just listen and offer emotional support.

From there, advisers should build a checklist. A holistic adviser and planner will start by ensuring you have the necessary support across all your needs, from legal to health and wellness. They’ll work with trusted partners, ranging from psychologists to accountants, that will form your support team. We’ve seen clients rack up hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees — needlessly — before engaging a financial adviser, and we often make referrals.

Two key considerations revolve around wills and the importance of retaining a forensic accountant. If you are going to get half the assets, it means making sure you find them all (sometimes, they are hidden) and ensuring they are accurately valued. This is usually where the disagreements begin. The best way to mitigate that is to get an independent third party to appraise the value of assets such as real estate, artwork and corporate accounts.

As for your will, it is one of the first documents that needs to be updated. As we have learned from the pandemic, life can be unpredictable and it’s important that your assets are left in the right hands in the event something happens. We know that your children’s future is a priority, and it’s important to ensure that your wishes for your half of the estate are updated and accounted for.

This process can be daunting, but getting divorced in your sixties doesn’t mean you are no longer sailing happily into your retirement years. Endings bring new beginnings. Just make sure you are getting what you are entitled to, and if you ever think about taking the plunge again and remarrying, consult your financial adviser to ensure you are properly protected.

Ida Khajadourian and Kathy McMillan R.F.P. are both directors, Wealth Management, portfolio managers and investment advisers at Richardson Wealth.


This article was first published in the Financial Post, June 4, 2021

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