The overall divorce rate is falling in America, but the divorce rate among older Americans is growing.
More than a quarter of divorces involve couples over 50. Older Americans used to enjoy lower divorce rates, but now Baby Boomers are divorcing at the same rate as the general population. More than half of all gray divorces happen after 20 years of marriage. What’s causing this rapid increase?
Many experts believe women’s expectations about marriage have changed because of education, the feminist movement, and career opportunities. As a result, when a husband can’t meet their heightened expectations, women file for divorce. Over 70 percent of all divorces are filed by women and over 90 percent of divorces among college educated couples are filed by women.
Education and Career
More women today are educated, financially independent and crave autonomy, so they often divorce after their children have left home because they don’t have much in common with their spouse, they can expect to live at least another 20 years, and they can afford to live alone.
Freedom and Fulfillment
Older women in good health with financial resources can divorce and enjoy independence and personal fulfillment. However, older women in poor health with limited resources can find divorce difficult. The average older divorced woman has only 20% of the net assets owned by a married couple of the same age, while older widows possess more than double the wealth of the average gray divorcee.
Impact on Children
A downside to the high gray divorce rate is its negative impact on adult children. They are often distressed by their adult parent’s dating lives and worry about their parents being alone after the divorce. Even if adult children don’t take sides, they may have difficulty maintaining boundaries if a parent wants to be a confidant. Putting adult children in these difficult situations can cause family discord. Additionally, when older couples divorce, they must decide what to do with their assets when they die.
Divorce and Estate Planning
The last thing on a person’s mind during a divorce is estate planning. However, if a couple has substantial assets and grown children, they need to think about how to divide their estate in a way that’s fair for their children, especially if they own a family business or farm. The Texas Family and Estate Code will protect assets from a former spouse, but they say nothing about how your assets will be distributed to your children. To make certain your assets are distributed in a fair way for your children, it’s important to meet with an experienced estate planning attorney early in the divorce. A basic estate plan includes a will, a power of attorney, a medical power of attorney, and a HIPAA release.
What Is an Estate Plan?
A will determines how assets are distributed. A general power of attorney grants another person the power to act if you are unable to handle your own affairs. A medical power of attorney gives another person authority to make health care decisions when a physician certifies you are incompetent. A directive to physicians communicates your wishes about end-of-life care. Finally, a HIPAA release is an authorization to disclose protected health information to listed individuals. The Texas Estate Code controls who will not inherit assets, but it’s no substitute for a new estate plan which will assure your assets will be distributed according to your intent.
Post-Divorce Estate Planning
The best strategy is to opt for a collaborative divorce so you and your spouse can work out an equitable agreement about how to divide and distribute a family business or farm without destroying it. That way, if one of your children wants to continue managing the business or working the farm, they will have the opportunity. Sometimes the couple can continue to own the business or farm jointly, but often it’s better to execute a buy-out agreement where one spouse purchases the other spouse’s half of the community estate over time. That way, one spouse has income and the other spouse retains the asset for his or her children. Also, the couple must find some way to make this arrangement fair to the other children who won’t inherit the business or farm. This can often be done with life insurance or cash payments to the other children. Every situation is different, and needs to be handled by a competent collaborative attorney and estate planner. Often the most difficult part of a gray divorce is deciding how to handle the inheritance and be fair to the children.