Second-time-rounders get real

Handling finances proves to be a sticking point for couples meeting later in life.

Handling finances proves to be a sticking point for couples meeting later in life.

His, mine, ours, theirs - how are people entering new relationships in their 50s and 60s managing their money?

For Jocelyn and Warwick Henry, it's been an amicable separation of resources. When the former marriage counsellor and the airline pilot tied the knot in 2006, they were aged in their early 60s, widowed and newly retired. They each had two adult children and a house, and similar amounts in super.

The Henrys are among a growing number of Australians heading to the altar later in life. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 11,920 couples aged 50 and over married in 2011, up from 6891 in 1991.

Since marrying, the Henrys have lived in a home owned and maintained by one party and split the rent from the other's property. They have deposited the same amount into a joint fund for daily expenses and put in extra for holidays. Individual interests are kept separate.

"We both had enough of a nest egg so that if you wanted to do something, you could," Jocelyn says.

"Warwick has a plane hobby and pays for that himself ... part of it being a mature-age thing is you're free to do what you want to do."

The couple agreed early on to keep things separate. "Warwick had heard of there being tensions for adult children as a result of inheritance worries and he did not want that to happen," Jocelyn says. Aside from bequests to each other and their stepchildren, they have willed their assets to their own offspring.

An adviser at Sydney planning firm PSK Financial Services, James Gerrard, says the Henrys' arrangements are not the norm.

About 80 per cent of the mature couples Gerrard has seen threw their lots in together after moving in or marrying. Typically, if both owned houses, one was sold, the proceeds invested in a joint self-managed super fund and the other transferred into both names, as tenants in common.

The latter arrangement allows couples to bequeath their half to their children, rather than ownership reverting to the surviving spouse, as would occur if a house was owned as "joint tenants".

Reversionary pensions with binding death nominations can help ensure superannuation is handed down fairly to all adult children once both parties have passed on, Gerrard says.

Investing a few thousand dollars in professional planning upfront could prevent inheritance wrangles later, but for many newly loved-up couples it is not on the radar. "They just want to enjoy themselves - they feel they have 20 good years ahead," Gerrard says.

The head financial planner at Mercer in NSW, Michelle Smith, says hope can be tempered if one or both parties had been through a divorce, but having similar amounts of money can make for smoother sailing.

"A lot of people want to start equitably - they don't want to rely on another person in retirement," she says.

Both divorced with two adult children apiece, mental health nurse Debra Robins and schoolteacher Alan Mayne don't fit the mould of gun-shy second-time-rounders. They became a couple in 2001 and joined forces financially two years later.

Then aged in their early 50s, they came to the relationship with equivalent net worth. Debra chose to balance the scales by giving her children $50,000 each for a house deposit.

Her divorce settlement included two properties, while Alan had 30 years of public service superannuation.

Alan feels splitting bills and keeping track of who was paying what would have been painful. "How do you keep things separate? I couldn't see the [attraction]."

While more chary at the outset, Debra agrees: "Those who don't [share] have more fights than feeds," she says.

Whether or not a couple becomes financially entwined is immaterial, says Darryl Hodgson, a senior psychologist at Psychology Melbourne.

What's important is that money is talked about clearly and openly once they get serious.

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