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Move over, heirs and heiresses: Baby boomers are flocking to sign prenuptial agreements, too.
New Yorkers Laura Jackson and Gary Zaremba met on a dating website in 2005. Two years later, Mr. Zaremba, a 52-year-old real-estate developer, popped the question. Ms. Jackson accepted.
Then he popped another: “Will you sign a prenuptial agreement?”
He had been through a divorce, had a college-age son and several real-estate investments. She, a publicist and also 52, had never married.
“When he first mentioned it,” Ms. Jackson, now Ms. Jackson-Zaremba, says, “I thought, ‘Oh, my God.’ It definitely took a little bit of the romance out.”
Baby boomers looking to protect their assets are increasingly turning to prenuptial agreements—legal contracts drawn up before a marriage that dictate what happens to assets in the event a couple should part ways, either by divorce or death.
“They used to be for the rich and famous,” says Marlene Eskind Moses, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and a lawyer in Nashville, Tenn. “It’s become more commonplace in the market as an estate-planning opportunity for boomers.”
Even before the financial crisis hit, prenuptial agreements were on the rise: Some 80% of matrimonial lawyers said they had seen an increase in couples signing them in recent years, according to a 2006 survey sponsored by the matrimonial lawyers group.
The financial crisis—which hit boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, especially hard—accelerated the trend. Many of them, just on the cusp of retirement, saw their investment portfolios pounded, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 53% from Oct. 9, 2007, to March 6, 2009. Home values, which represented significant chunks of boomer net worth, were down almost 31% as of March 31 from their peak in mid-2006, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller national index.
As a result, boomers have become more anxious to hold on to whatever they have left, says Gabriel Cheong, a divorce attorney with Infinity Law Group LLC in Quincy, Mass. Today, the majority of inquiries come from boomers “concerned about protecting their assets,” he says. “Not just with the markets, but with protecting their spouses and children.” And they often enter a marriage with substantial assets—and children from an earlier union.
Baby boomers are more likely to get married multiple times than younger or older couples because they also are more likely to have gotten divorced. Almost 40% of boomers who have been married have gone through at least one divorce, according to 2004 Census data, the most recent available, while only about 30% of all people who have been married have been divorced. By their 50th birthday, 27% of boomers have moved on to their second or third marriage.