August 03, 2017
Divorce at any age can be difficult. Even in the most amicable of situations there are major financial decisions to work through, and staying clear-eyed amid the emotional upheaval can be challenging.
The financial stakes are extra high the older you are when you divorce. There are likely more assets to divide and the assets you retain will be a major part of your retirement security. That’s a life change more older Americans are faced with; Pew reports that the percentage of couples at least 50 years old divorcing has more than doubled since 1990.
While divorce impacts both parties, there is one divorce habit many older women have that I think can be dangerous to their long-term financial security.
Women often are laser-focused on one central financial goal: Keeping the house.
I get it. You love your house. And the memories. To say nothing of the neighbors and neighborhood. And while you are uprooting your personal life, retaining the familiarity and embrace of your existing home is a strong pull.
But ladies, I want you to understand that what may be emotionally appealing is not necessarily financially smart. And you need to understand that the decisions you make during the divorce will have a huge impact on your quality of life in retirement, which may be just a decade or so away.
I insist that you, or a trusted financial advisor, carefully create a monthly housing cost estimate if you were to keep the house as part of the divorce settlement. Add up the mortgage, insurance, property tax, all the utilities and ongoing maintenance such as a gardener or the snow-removal in the winter. Whatever you annual costs are, add another 10% to 15% a year to cover the bigger-ticker maintenance issues that you must prepare for.
Now take a deep breath and honestly look at your monthly cash-flow. Can you easily handle the cost? Notice I said, easily. The worst thing you can do is stay in a home that is a financial stretch and stress.
The other issue is that a home does not pay your bills in retirement. Your home is an asset, but it is not something that produces monthly income. Yes, I know all about reverse mortgages. But they are best used later in retirement after very careful consideration of the trade offs. And even then the trade offs may be too steep for you.
The bottom line is that giving up your rights to all or the bulk of retirement assets in exchange for keeping the house can be a dangerous move.
If you stand in your truth you will recognize the best step may be to sell the home and use your share of the proceeds to move to a home that is an easy fit with your new financial life. Trust me, not having to worry about maintaining your too expensive old home will be liberating. And that will help give you the emotional space to step into your new life with more confidence and openness. It also is a major step in helping you land in retirement in good shape.