Thursday, January 28, 2010

Never Too Late?

It’s Never Too Late
They’re off on their Harleys or to a dancing lesson on Saturday night. The fun isn’t over for these young-as-you-feel couples who’ve found a new lease on life – and romance.

by Patricia J. Lasher

Debbie had only been divorced a few months, but after 25 years of marriage, she wasn’t used to dating. The slightly-past-middle-age mother of three let herself rush into a relationship.

“It was too quick, too soon,” she recalls, not bitterly, but with a note of puzzlement in her otherwise animated tone. “Finally, after that relationship quickly ended, I had reached the point that I was happy, on my own, for the first time in my life, ready to have fun and ready to take my time as far as any relationship. I was happy to travel with girlfriends, do things I had never had a chance to do. . . . I wasn’t looking for anyone else to make me happy.”

And when she unexpectedly fell in love with Scott, 11 years her junior, Debbie was reluctant to tell her family and grown children. “I was worried about what others would think about me going into another relationship.” She enjoyed a year of courtship, then a romantic and surprising wedding proposal that whisked her off her feet. That family she was worried about informing came a hundred-plus strong to their 2004 wedding. Their only complaint? Now these lovebirds are often too busy to watch the grandchildren. Debbie recently bought a Harley-Davidson to match Scott’s, and, she says, “We’re off riding nearly every other weekend.”

Statistically, Debbie’s remarriage is the rule, not the exception. A study of the patterns of remarriage following divorce in this country by Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics in 2002 indicates that the odds that remarriage will occur are better than even. According to this study, 75 percent of divorced women remarry within 10 years of divorce.

Remarriage, especially after a long first (or subsequent), established marriage, adds a whole new level of complexity, from household belongings to finances. Monies from a divorce settlement, or a survivor’s annuity, Social Security benefits, or medical insurance coverage may automatically cease. (Information is available on the Social Security Administration website .) Alimony payments that a divorced spouse receives usually end when that person remarries; on the other hand, a paying spouse who remarries must continue his or her obligation, causing more than a few parties in the new relationship to hesitate before saying I do. In addition, marital agreements and airtight trusts often keep a spouse responsible for the long-term care of the divorced spouse, sometimes even affecting Medicaid eligibility.

For businesswoman Gloria Berthold of Elkridge, Maryland, remarriage was not even on the radar screen. Divorced for 21 years, Berthold’s life was a busy but satisfying whirl of business – she runs a company that helps others seek government contracts – and good times with a tight circle of wonderful friends.

“I had been in relationships over the years, but had really given up on the idea of remarriage,” she says. So when Berthold received a call from her broker, Patrick Larkin, she assumed he was calling “to ask me to invest some more funds.” But after that one lunch date, the couple saw each other with “different eyes,” Berthold says, and pretty soon the decision to remarry was “shockingly clear cut.” They married a year later, in May 2008, with the blessings of Patrick’s children. The biggest challenge, she says, has been that of getting used to a new last name. “When you’ve been in business or in a career and built up a reputation with a name, it is really difficult to make the switch, but I never doubted that I would use ‘Larkin’ once we were married.”

Kids at Heart

Ah, the children. Patrick Larkin’s first wife had died of breast cancer after a long and happy 39-year marriage, and his adult son and daughter welcomed someone into their dad’s life. “The children have been so supportive,” says Gloria Larkin, who had none of her own. “I think they are pleased to see their dad happy.”

Jack and Shirley Cohen Wald met at nightly synagogue services; Jack had been a widower for several years, but Shirley’s husband had only recently died. Her children were still mourning, as was she, the loss of their father, and were reluctant to accept a new man in her life. Over the next 3 years, Jack and Shirley’s friendship grew, and they brought both sets of children and grandchildren together on holidays.

The families finally grew comfortable – then happy – about the marriage when 67-year-old Shirley married 80-year-old Jack, about 10 years ago. “Holidays are wonderful now,” Shirley said, when discussing her golden years’ marriage last fall. “Each of our children takes a holiday and everyone comes together. I think of Jack’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren as mine and he feels that way about mine.” Jack’s granddaughter, Ilene Glickman Horwitz, a family law attorney in Towson, Maryland, says, “Shirley became the matriarch of our family and took us all under her wing.” Jack Wald died in April, 2009, and as a loving, blended family, they bid their farewells to Jack and celebrated his rich life.

Not all offspring are so accommodating. Those adult children who so vehemently spurned parental advice when diving into their own marriages are often pretty loose with unsolicited advice for their own parents who contemplate remarriage.

Accountant Kathy Becker of Columbia, Maryland, believes that when you “get married, you get married, with all that it involves.” She and her husband of 5 years each have an adult child from prior marriages. “Everyone gets along great,” she reports. As for estate planning, Becker and her spouse decided to provide by will for each other, with a level of trust between them that each would be fair to the other’s child. “Today it’s hard to be sure you have enough for retirement and long-term care,” she says, “so unless the estate is bigger than ours, there’s not enough to even think about setting aside trusts for children.” But, of course, some larger estates require separate trusts or stronger plans; many CPAs advise couples to put financial agreements into prenuptial or carefully worded postmarital agreements.

“It seems that adult children are either really in favor of the later marriage, or really against it,” says John Abosch, a CPA and personal financial specialist and estate planner with Baltimore-based KAWG&F. Dealing with sophisticated clients, Abosch says that, at minimum, parties should look at the tax consequences of marriage along with the estate ramifications. “Written agreements, where both of the parties are represented and understand their rights, can prevent some of the current extended family distrust and family disputes that often arise.”

Among the issues that clients ask matrimonial lawyers to address include support in the event of death or divorce, property brought into the marriage, disposition of personal property, life insurance trusts, real estate ownership, medical directives, powers of attorney, and living wills. Family law attorney Liz Scheffee says that almost all of her older clients who contemplate a later remarriage have premarital agreements. The Portland, Maine, matrimonial lawyer notes that it’s “usually to protect the kids, and, perhaps, assure them as well.”

“The older gentlemen are more generous in negotiating prenups than the younger men,” Scheffee adds, “most likely because they already know what their future holds…if you get my drift.” In short, “there is less future to negotiate about, and the estate is a known quantity rather than a potential one. I find the premarital agreements for older people are more about estate planning and preserving each person’s asset base for the kids. For younger couples, the prenups are more about what happens on divorce rather than death.”

Yours, Mine, or Ours

High up on the checklist of issues for these later-in-life couples is housing, whether a spouse has died or individuals are moving out of an established postdivorce situation. For the Walds, the “your place or mine” question was easily resolved: Each sold homes, and the couple moved to Leisure World, an active retirement community outside of Washington, DC. “Everything that had belonged to their mother went to Jack’s children and grandchildren before we moved,” Shirley says. “I wanted them to know that their mother’s things were theirs.” Debbie and Scott solved the question by purchasing a home together along with an RV that has them spending the occasional weekend with family in tow. Patrick moved into Gloria’s residence, and they’ve discovered a new hobby: getting Patrick’s home ready to sell. Most weekends these days, says Gloria, “we are do-it-yourselfers: painting, carpeting. We’re doing it all.”

When one spouse moves into the other’s family home without receiving legal title, big questions can arise in the event of death or subsequent divorce. Without a prior written agreement of the parties, the divorce agreement – or, as a last resort, the courts – will have to stipulate who may remain on premises. If the marriage ends in death without wills, state law may address the resolution. A few states, in some instances, do grant a surviving spouse homestead rights for the remainder of his or her life. In other states, the parties who inherit the family home can decide whether the surviving spouse may remain – and under what terms – or must vacate.

Annette and Hal Kuntz celebrated their remarriage last year by buying a penthouse apartment in Texas. “We each sold our homes and sold, stored, gave away, or incorporated some of our furniture and furnishings.” Between her beach house and his ranches, which they kept, both were ready to give up the yard and the upkeep for a home in the city. “It has also been fun to find new items that we both like, says Annette, a family court judge, “making this home truly ‘ours.’ ” The biggest excitement came when the hot tub, delivered and placed by a helicopter, was set on their patio overlooking the Houston skyline.

Going for the Gold

Although the number of cohabiting senior citizens is on the increase, marriage in the golden years is still a welcome option to many. Research holds that married seniors are more likely to eat breakfast, wear seat belts, engage in physical activity, have their blood pressure checked, and avoid smoking than widowed elderly persons. The benefits of marriage tend to be more substantial for elderly men than for elderly women, according to a 1998 study by the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research (now the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality).

If Olympic medals were awarded to the couple best suited to represent the joys and benefits of remarriage in the senior years, then Jane and Albert Schleuter, now 84 and 80, respectively, would be in the running. The couple met several years ago down the hall from their apartments in the Charlestown Retirement Community, located in a Baltimore suburb. This past July, the Schleuters celebrated their fourth anniversary, squeezing a lunch celebration with family in between plans to work on the community’s Benevolent Care Foundation Treasure Sale, crab feasts, and dinner dates with friends.

Contradictions and laughter greet my question, How did you meet? “A friend introduced us at the elevator,” says Al. “That’s not right,” Jane quickly interrupts. “I was waiting for an elevator, and you walked right up and introduced yourself.”

On almost everything else, though, they seem to agree. As they dined frequently together, each talked about the lack of desire to remarry. After a little more than a year, when friends asked them to come along on a trip to Italy, Al popped the question. Jane said yes, without hesitation. “Our friends said they knew before we did that we’d marry,” she says. “We just always, from the start, held hands.”

Like a storybook, Al picked out Jane’s lavender wedding dress and she chose his new suit for the big day. They exchanged vows in the magnificent chapel Our Lady of the Angels on the 110-acre retirement community’s grounds. More than 80 guests celebrated with the couple, including most of their families: Jane has three children, five grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren; Al, who lost a son several years ago, has a surviving daughter, two grandchildren, and a great-grandchild. Jane and her sister made the six wedding cakes offered up at the reception.

Without a backward glance, Jane moved to Al’s apartment in the 2,000-member community. “It was larger,” he says. Jane’s family antiques and other furniture went to her children. “They would have gotten it someday, anyway,” Jane adds.

When it came to family members, encouragement from both sides was strong. “I called my children to say I’d met someone. They said, ‘Mom, you don’t have to tell us what you’re doing.’ Then I called to say I was going to Italy and got the same response. Finally, I said, ‘I want you to meet Al,’ and the response was ‘It’s about time.’ ”

Reluctant to give advice to others, both do agree that being able to talk easily to each other is a major consideration in choosing a partner. “Oh, yes,” Jane adds, “and holding hands.”

Former family court associate judge, reMarriage’s legal columnist Patricia J. Lasher, shuttles back and forth between homes in Houston, Texas, and Baltimore, Maryland.

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