Middle-aged and thinking about marriage? This is what you and your partner need to talk about

The Wall Street Journal covered a 2022 study from the Journal of Marriage and Family that found the rate of first-time marriages for people in their 40s and 50s has risen by 75% for women and 45% for men. And while behavioral finance experts suggest having the “money talk” in a relationship no matter what your age, that conversation looks different when both you and your partner have each had decades to build separate financial lives.

CNBC Select spoke to Kevin Luchetta, a wealth management advisor at Northwestern Mutual, about what topics your talk should cover when preparing to walk down the aisle well into middle age.

1. Merging finances with significant assets

If you’re fortunate, making it to your 40s and 50s means having some expensive assets to your name. This naturally makes your money talk “more complicated from a financial standpoint because there are typically more financial assets,” compared to a typical younger couple.

You and your partner should not only share what each of you currently own, but also what new assets you want to share as a married couple — a home, for example — and how you plan to protect the value of everything. CNBC Select ranked Nationwide as the best homeowners insurance provider overall, which provides tons of ways to save money. And Chubb is a top pick for covering your home as well as high-value assets like fine art, fine wine or antiques.

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In addition to talking about current assets and liabilities, Luchetta adds that you’ll want to cover each other’s current income and spending habits. This is typical in a relationship at any age, but older couples may have significant expenses that aren’t as common for people in their early 20s, such as child support or alimony payments. Having this conversation will give you both a better idea of future cash flow needs.

2. Redo your roadmap for retirement

You’ve likely been thinking about and saving for retirement long before a later-in-life marriage, but you might need to make some major adjustments in both your planning and goals now that you’re taking on a partner. Make sure you’re both on the same page about where you two will live out your golden years and how you can make it a reality. This is also a great opportunity to talk about your risk tolerance with investing in general, and could even guide your decision as to how much you want to combine your finances (if at all).

Although you can’t combine retirement accounts with your spouse, you and your partner can name, or designate, the other as a beneficiary in your respective retirement accounts. This way, in the event of a death, the surviving spouse would inherit the account and could roll it into their own 401(k) or IRA. Given that retirement looms relatively close for you and your partner, you should make this decision soon.

3. Estate planning

At its most basic, estate planning means deciding what will happen to your assets when you die. Since your marriage will change the dynamics of both you and your partners’ families, you need to discuss what changes you need to make to your estate plan.

Luchetta suggests paying particular attention to how you want to incorporate life insurance into the mix.

“In many marriages I see [that happen] later in life, life insurance is used to equalize financial support, especially if one of the spouses has a lot more financial assets and a family from a previous relationship,” he says. In these instances, Luchetta says, typically this spouse would keep all or a majority of their current financial assets allocated to their existing child. Then they would set up a separate life insurance policy for their new spouse.

“This can be a simple way to provide financial security to a surviving new spouse, protect all parties involved and minimize disagreements or conflict between a new spouse and existing family members, especially if the new spouse is significantly younger,” he adds.

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Bottom line

Whether you’ve been married before or you’re giving matrimony another go, tying the knot later in life means some financial matters are more pressing than if you and your spouse were younger. Prioritize speaking with your partner about the financial assets you both bring to the table, your retirement plan as an older couple and financial security for either of you in the case of a death.