A fair number of us over the age of 55 are single, and if we are lucky, there is a chance that we may fall in love. The question is: “Does getting married make sense at this point in our lives?”
Years ago, I was working with a couple, and the husband had a terminal disease. Several years after he passed away, I made the comment to “Mary” that should she ever meet a special someone, there are some issues to consider before getting married.
Six years later, Mary called all excited that “Ed”, a long-time friend, had proposed to her the night before. She went on to tell me that she told Ed she couldn’t give him an answer until she talked with me. We scheduled an appointment to discuss the issues that should be considered prior to saying yes.
Here are some financial issues you may wish to consider prior to getting married:
• There needs to be full disclosure by both parties about their assets, liabilities, current, or potential lawsuits and income and outgo. Having $30,000 worth of undisclosed credit card debt is a great way to destroy trust in a relationship.
• How will the monthly bills the paid? Is there a joint checking account from which bills will be paid? Does one person take care of certain bills, and the other the rest? What happens when one party runs short of cash?
• Where will you live … his house or her house, a new house or apartment? Who pays for the upkeep, taxes, utilities? What happens if the owner dies prematurely? Will the remaining spouse continue to live there rent-free, with rent or have to move out?
• Social Security benefits and pensions potentially could be affected with a marriage, and checking with the Social Security office and pension administrator would be prudent.
• Some individuals have health care benefits provided by a previous employer. Getting married might provide additional health care benefits for the new spouse. Check with the past employer about these options.
• If you get married, who should be the agents named in your powers-of-attorney (individuals to make health care decisions and take care of our finances if incapacitated)? It could make sense that your new spouse serve as power-of-attorney, or it may be better to have your children do the job. Always discuss this with your estate-planning attorney.
• Would you wish to change your will or living trust and leave something to the new spouse, everything to the new spouse, or nothing to the new spouse? Everyone should have at least a will and many times a living trust to make sure their wishes are carried out. Talk to your estate-planning attorney if you do not have the proper documents, and certainly do so if you are considering getting married.
• For your retirement plans, do you want the new spouse to receive what’s in your retirement plan when you die, or do you prefer it goes to your children or other heirs? If you name your new spouse as the beneficiary and you die, the retirement plan becomes that of your spouse. If then the spouse dies, your retirement funds could go to your new spouse’s heirs. Be very careful when listing retirement plan beneficiaries. Consult with your financial advisor or estate-planning attorney before making such changes.
• Long-term care is perhaps the biggest issue when considering getting married. If you are married, your income and assets could be at risk if your new spouse required long-term care. The rules for Medi-Cal eligibility continue to change, and it would be a shame that your assets go to pay for your new spouse’s long-term care costs.
• Consult your tax preparer on potential income tax changes by getting married.
• Should you decide to get married, consult with your car and home insurance agent to make sure that your spouse is adequately protected should a claim occur.
• In many cases, a prenuptial agreement is a good idea to make sure everybody understands the intentions and desires of both parties should the marriage not workout as well as the intentions when spouses die. While these agreements are said to create stress in the relationship, I think the opposite is true. It provides peace of mind and decreases stress between the new spouses and provides clarity for both families.
As it turned out, Mary and Ed decided that they didn’t need to be married in order to have a loving, happy and fulfilled life together. However, if you find yourself in that situation, a trip down the aisle might be the best option for you. Just be sure you know how you are impacted in all these areas before you make that trip.