During a divorce, it helps to stay objective. An emotional attachment to your assets isn’t always worth the financial burden of fighting to keep them.
Q: I am a 60-year old female with a part-time minimum wage job and I just got served papers for the dissolution of a 17-year marriage. We have a beautiful million-dollar property with 3-flat and adjacent lot in Chicago, and I have been living in the property for the last year. I’ve been helping my husband manage the property for the last 15 years.
My husband wants to sell and I don’t. I want to develop the lot and figure out how to live the rest of my life here. Can you please recommend someone to help me build an argument for development, backed up by real numbers? That’s the kind of help I am looking for.
A: One of the biggest mistakes spouses make when dealing with divorce is becoming attached to their assets. Sometimes that attachment can work out but often it does not.
So, let’s take a step back and try to assess your situation from a financial perspective first. That is, if you sold the properties and settled your divorce, what would you receive out of the settlement? You’d also have to assess the impact of selling the property or keeping it on your federal income taxes and then you’d know where you stand financially after the settlement of the divorce.
Divorce is always hard, but if you get emotionally attached to the property rather than looking at it as an asset that can support you financially, you might become blinded by other factors that could negatively affect your life now and in the future. If you sell the property, you can decide what to do with the money you receive. If you want to develop real estate, you might find other property that is similar to yours (or perhaps less expensive) and develop that with the cash.
Since you don’t have a track record in real estate property development, and you only have a part-time minimum wage job, it’s unlikely you’ll find a bank that’s willing to hand over several million dollars to you to redevelop the property on your own. You’d have to find a partner willing to take on some of the risk for a share of the reward.
Finding the right partner is difficult to do. Real estate development can be hard and not everyone succeeds. We’re not sure that you’ll be able to accomplish the goal of finding the right people who can help you redevelop the property and allow you to continue to live there. There are so many things that could go wrong, and tank the development just as you’re getting to the finish line. You could lose everything you and your soon to be ex-husband have worked for.
When divorcing your spouse, you need to tally up all of the assets, including real estate, investment accounts, his 401(k) accounts, any retirement accounts you have, and other assets such as cash, artwork, cars, etc. You need to see how much cash the investment property generates and if you’re entitled to any alimony or spousal support. (Since you’ve been married at least 10 years, you’ll be able to get a spouse’s share of his Social Security benefits, starting when you’re 62, although if you can wait until age 70, you’ll wind up with a lot more.)
Once these assets are tallied (by your divorce attorneys), you’ll need to determine whether you’ll be better off financially having cash in hand rather than estimating the value of property. Frequently, as it is in your case, one spouse values the home much higher than the other. Then you settle the estate using the higher value for the property, but you later find out that the valuation for the property may not have been as high as you thought, the property needs work and is a money pit and you’ve left a whole bunch of money on the table.
If the property is truly worth a million dollars, you should be entitled to your fair share of the proceeds. We suggest that you talk to your divorce attorney and tax preparer and walk through those issues. Finally, if it becomes a fight as to whether you sell or keep the property, the cost of your attorneys could eat up any profits that you might otherwise get out of developing the property.