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For some couples, togetherness extends only so far. And one place it may not extend to is their financial assets. |
Spouses and couples who live together without getting married often keep separate bank or brokerage accounts, and they might hold real estate and other property in their own name rather than jointly.
That can be a smart strategy. For instance, there are significant estate-planning advantages to separate ownership of assets.
But separate assets can present some problems as well, particularly when a spouse dies or a couple is divorced, and especially if couples aren't aware of all the legal issues involved.
Here are some potential pitfalls to keep in mind for couples who are thinking of keeping some or all of their assets separate.
1. Those assets aren't necessarily separate under the law.
You may think the account that has only your name on it is yours alone, but state law may disagree.
'If you live in a community-property state, all of the assets you acquire after you get married are the property of both parties,' says Nancy Skeans, managing director at Pittsburgh-based Schneider Downs Wealth Management Advisors LP.
总部位于匹兹堡(Pittsburgh)的财富管理咨询公司Schneider Downs Wealth Management Advisors LP的董事总经理南希・斯基恩斯(Nancy Skeans)称：“如果你居住在一个实行共同财产制的州，你婚后取得的所有财产都是双方的共同财产。”
'But even in a non-community-property state, there's always the judge' in a divorce case, she says. 'Just because you keep your assets separate doesn't mean those assets cannot be used if you decide to go your separate ways.' That is, a portion of what you consider yours may go to your ex-spouse.
State inheritance laws also can surprise couples, Ms. Skeans says. For example, say a married couple in Pennsylvania owns assets separately, and neither of them has a will. Upon one spouse's death, some of that partner's assets may go to the children -- even if the deceased spouse intended everything to go to the surviving partner.
Another example: A couple, both married before, choose to simply live together and keep their assets separate. When one of them dies, any assets held in the deceased partner's name may go to that person's parents.
In Pennsylvania, 'if I am not married and I have no children, my assets go back to my parents if I do not have a will,' Ms. Skeans says. (There are exceptions, such as a beneficiary named in a life-insurance policy.)
Given the legal complexities, it makes sense to talk to a professional to create an estate plan.
2. Separate accounts may foster a failure to communicate.
Owning accounts individually may encourage spouses to manage those accounts in isolation, rather than taking the couple's financial situation as a couple into consideration.
This is often a problem with retirement accounts, which generally are owned by one person. Couples should discuss their financial objectives and risk tolerance and then make sure their combined holdings in their retirement accounts -- and in any other accounts -- are designed to achieve those goals, Ms. Skeans says.
Communication is critical. One spouse 'may be controlling their investments without having a conversation with their spouse,' Ms. Skeans says. One of her clients, a widow, is still bitter about how her husband managed their investments. 'Every time we talk, she will bring up the fact that her pension would have been twice as big had he not been so aggressive,' Ms. Skeans says.
Failing to plan together also can lead to higher costs, says Suzanna de Baca, vice president of wealth strategies at Ameriprise Financial Inc. in Minneapolis. For example, if both partners hold the same mutual fund in separate accounts, they might be able to lower their fees by having one spouse hold the combined amount or by holding the combined amount in a joint account, because some funds charge less for larger accounts.
明尼阿波利斯Ameriprise Financial Inc.的财富策略部门副总裁苏珊娜・德巴卡(Suzanna de Baca)表示，伴侣如果不能共同规划，还可能会产生较高的费用。比方说，假设伴侣双方用不同的账户持有同一只共同基金，他们如能把基金全部交由一方持有或者设立联名账户来持有，可能就会降低费用，因为一些基金对大额账户收取的费用较低。