“There is no more lovely, friendly and charming relationship, communion or company than a good marriage,” said Martin Luther. These words still ring true almost five centuries later. And who doesn’t love a good wedding, after all? Watching that special couple in your life say, “I do,” is full of so much joviality and merriment (not to mention the reception).
But when two people remarry later in life, not everyone shows up with wedding bells on. Some attendees on both sides of the aisle may view the union as a threat to their inheritance.
Later in life marriages have surged in recent years, bringing more attention to both the financial issues and family relationship challenges posed by the nuptials.
People 55 and older are getting remarried at higher rates than ever before, according to a 2014 research report from the Pew Research Center. Study author Gretchen M. Livingston found that 67% of previously married people between the ages of 55 to 64 had remarried. This number represents a 55% increase since 1960. And get this: half of all adults 65 and older had remarried in 2014, versus just 34% in 1960.
Livingston believes these second (or third) walks down the aisle are the result of our increasing life spans, saying, “People realize they have many more years to live and want to find fulfillment in that extra time.”
So, people deep into their 70s are remarrying because they likely have many more beautiful years ahead of them.
Wonderful, right? Well, that depends on who you ask.
The financial factors that can affect older remarrying couples, are “all very tricky and sometimes difficult to understand,” says Hyman G. Darling, president of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. Counseling couples about the financial ins-and-outs of combining resources in their golden years can be extremely helpful. But Darling has also seen such conversations prompt the cancellation, postponement and even dissolution of marriages. Nevertheless, it’s vitally important to think through the financial consequences of remarrying before booking a banquet hall.
Issues to consider in later-in-life marriages include income and estate tax increases, loss of pensions or alimony, and termination of important government benefits, like Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income. And let’s not forget about medical costs – once you wed, you might be on the hook for your spouse’s medical care. Those costs could pose an existential threat to your estate if your spouse ever has an extended stay in a long-term care facility, as Medicare doesn’t cover most nursing home care. Still, according to Mr. Darling and Lina Guillen, an attorney and co-author of the 2017 book Living Together: A Legal Guide for Unmarried Couples, the issue older couples grapple with the most when thinking about remarriage is how their adult children may react.
While some children are happy for mom or dad’s newfound love, others look at the union with arched eyebrows. Questions like, “Is this person just after my parent’s money?” come bubbling to the surface. It’s a legitimate question, but often the underlying the question is the deeper concern of, “Is this person after my inheritance.”
If the parent is committed to leaving their assets to their adult children or grandchildren and little to nothing for their new spouse, Guillen recommends executing both a will and a prenuptial agreement. Only then, she says, can the couple be reasonably assured that their children’s inheritance will not be tampered with or contested.
Whew! In light of these hurdles and threats of hurt feelings, why, you may be wondering, don’t these couples just live together? After all, generally speaking, if a couple remains unmarried and one dies without a will, the unmarried partner typically gets nothing, explains Guillen. “The property will go to blood relatives, with children being first in line,” she says.
Many older couples insist on marrying, be it for moral or religious reasons. They prefer to live in matrimony and with a clear conscious, regardless of the potential turmoil in their financial or family lives.
And in many cases, the financial piece works out just fine. Some older couples save money when married, through joining houses and sharing expenses, and even through a reduction in taxes, depending on the state and their combined income.
Still, for some couples, the cons of remarrying outweigh the pros and they are content to live together as a couple. This could be the reasoning behind statistics that show the number of folks over 50 who cohabitate with their partner has ballooned by 75% from 2007 to 2016.
Back to Martin Luther, perhaps we should update his statement on marriage to fall more in line with our times: “There is no more lovely, friendly and charming relationship, communion or company than a good marriage, so long as there are solid wills, a prenuptial agreement, and it makes financial sense.” Somehow, this version just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
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