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I Do, Or I Don’t?

Does a trip down the aisle at age 50 differ from one in your 20s? In so many ways. Couples at 25 probably aren’t considering how this union will impact their years of acquired assets, their health insurance, or whether they should file jointly or separately.

Marriage at 50 and older is not unusual. The U. S. Census Bureau reports that more than one-third of the population between the ages of 50 and 64 is single, whether due to divorce, death of a spouse, or having never wed. Many of these people will desire companionship in their remaining years.

But, marrying later in life brings concerns over taxes and estates, retirement goals, effect on adult children, medical and health-care issues, possible long-term care needs, and years of financial or medical baggage on both sides–all needing to be addressed.

Should one partner have bad credit and/or credit-related liabilities, the new spouse could be responsible for some of that debt. Both partners should provide full disclosure about their assets and liabilities. Ideally, they will consult with an attorney or financial advisor.

Will they live in his home or hers? And when one of them dies, will the remaining partner continue to live there rent-free, or pay rent, even be forced out?

If a previously divorced partner is receiving Social Security benefits based on a former spouse’s work record, those benefits will end with the new marriage.

However, widows and widowers may continue to receive the deceased spouse’s benefits provided they do not remarry until past age 60. They will want to check on how their social security and pensions will be affected by this marriage and to be sure that filing taxes jointly will not place them in a higher tax bracket.

If the new spouse is made beneficiary to the other’s retirement funds, then when new spouse dies, those funds could go to their heirs, not to the original owner’s heirs.

Children from previous relationships can be provided for through a trust. Without a trust in place, the new spouse could inherit everything.

Powers of attorney for health care and finances are essential. It’s also important for the couple to inform adult children of their plans and to assure them that they will be able to step in if the new partner is unable to fulfill the POA role.

And finally, they will need to discuss how to handle long-term care, should that become necessary. Medicare doesn’t cover the costs of daily personal care, and Medicaid only kicks in when the beneficiary has minimal assets remaining. In the latter case, it may be smarter for partners to keep their finances separate. Or, they may investigate buying long-term care insurance together and possibly getting a better rate. It truly would be unfortunate if their assets were depleted by a partner’s long-term care.

As distasteful as a prenuptial agreement may seem, it spells out for everyone the couple’s wishes and provides peace of mind for all concerned.

Financially it may be easier not to wed, but there are circumstances in which marriage provides protections. Married partners may be eligible for a spouse’s pension plan while unmarried partners are not.

Marriage is the better choice when it comes to estate and inheritance taxes. A spouse can inherit unlimited assets with no estate tax, and in most states, inheritance is automatic, even if the deceased partner had no will.

Sandra Block, Senior Editor, Kiplinger’s Personal finance, stated that between 2000 and 2010, adults 50 and older living together without marriage grew from 1.2 million to 2.75 million.

If single partners purchase a home together, a cohabitation agreement is advisable, spelling out the terms of how much each partner will contribute to ownership costs and of what happens to the home if one partner dies, or they break up.

Partners who choose to stay committed but single are advised to set up a trust to protect each other when one them dies, and to have powers of attorney for health care and financial decisions. A power of attorney for health care allows unmarried partners visitation rights at the hospital and the right to consult with the doctor. A financial power of attorney becomes especially important if unmarried partners have kept their finances separate and bills come due for medical and other expenses.

So, are there reasons to marry after 50? Of course. There is always love, and it’s also true that two people in one household can live cheaper than two people in two households.

After weighing all the options, will it be I do—or I don’t?

Constance Watkins