Following are excerpts from an article ran in the March 19th 2012 issue of Investment News. It underscores one of the many pitfalls of divorcing without the help of a financial expert. Unexpected penalties, fees, taxes and charges can wreak havoc on a post divorce financial plan.
The full text is available here. http://www.investmentnews.com/article/20120318/REG/303189983
Breaking up is hard to do – especially with annuities
Attorneys often split contracts in divorce settlements, unaware of the potentially costly impact
When a client came to his office bearing her new divorce decree, adviser Dale Russell became the bearer of bad news. During the divorce proceedings, the couple’s lawyers decided that their chief financial asset, a $500,000 variable annuity inside one of their individual retirement accounts, was to be split among the two. But that Solomon-like decision was made without the attorneys’ awareness of its dire financial consequences.
Splitting the variable annuity meant that Mr. Russell’s client had to pay an 8% surrender charge and a 10% penalty for an early withdrawal from the IRA.
With nearly one in two marriages ending in divorce, financial advisers who deal with divorcing couples often face complex problems connected with untangling annuities that are in the pool of shared assets.
With divorce attorneys typically unaware of the nuances of annuity contracts and the various ways insurers treat contracts in the context of divorce, and with advisers typically out of the loop when settlements are hammered out, the problem lands in the lap of advisers.
“This was essentially the only asset they had, and instead of my client’s getting the $250,000 she expected, she’s getting almost $50,000 less,” he said,
“It’s a big problem, said adviser Lili A. Vasileff, president of Divorce and Money Matters LLC and president of the Association of Divorce Financial Planners Inc. “Most attorneys think these annuities can be divided, and don’t wait for the consequences.”
Couples who work out divorce agreements on their own are even less likely to consider the financial consequences of splitting an annuity, and typically face surrender charges and loss of accrued living or death benefits due to excess withdrawals.
What makes annuities peculiar is the fact that they usually are not liquid in the immediate term, and each contract has its own rules on how it can be divided.
Contract terms vary wildly among insurers, with some prohibiting partial tax-free exchanges into other annuities, which potentially could be a way to apportion an annuity in a divorce. Exchanges into a new annuity, however, generally involve the beginning of a new surrender period.
Ideally, an adviser would intercede early in the split, analyze the shared pool of assets and communicate with life insurers about the annuities. This would also entail ensuring that if an annuity split involved a partial Section 1035 exchange, the division would be performed without the risk of taxes.
It pays to be attentive to these details, advisers said, as insurers adhere strictly to the terms of the divorce decree.
“If the court says the contract needs to be split a certain way, we have our hands tied,” said Brian L. Kunkel, national director of advanced planning and solutions at Prudential Financial Inc.
“If the client calls us, we can outline the options available to comply with the court agreement and still be as contract-friendly as possible,” he said. “If people just process the agreement, then we merely follow the instructions.”
In most cases, a divorce decree absolves the attorneys involved from responsibility for any financial consequences.