Welcoming Love, But Not Marriage at an Older Age

In this newsletter we discuss older couples who have lost a spouse and are now faced with the dilemma of getting remarried or just living with their new partner. Many of our clients are getting older and may have lost a spouse. After finding companionship with a new person, they face the question of whether to remarry. Several factors affect those choices and we want to discuss them to bring them to light.

Over the past decade a pattern has emerged. Americans are beginning to retreat from marriage. While people of all ages are living together unmarried, the growth is fastest among the older segment. In 2010, 2.8 million people age 50 and over cohabitated, up from 1.2 million in 2000, according to the US Census Bureau. There are many reasons why this number has more than doubled in 10 years.

For many people the main reason is money. Many older couples remain single because of financial issues. Older couples are more practical; worrying about adult heirs, paying bills, or pensions they receive from a spouse who served in the military. A partner who remarries stands to lose alimony, Social Security or a survivor’s pension. When discussing marriage, older couples should consider provisions in the tax code. These provisions sometimes force married couples to pay more than single people.

Many partners refuse to marry because of concerns over protecting the inheritance of children or grandchildren. While prenuptial agreements can stipulate who heirs will be, there is concern over whether documents are airtight or could be changed after one spouse dies. In some states the law requires property owners to leave one-third or more of their assets to surviving spouses, which would cut into the amount left to their children.

A marriage can cause a child to lose financial aid at a college. If a parent remarries, the student stands to lose $3,000 in aid for every $10,000 a new stepparent brings to the household. Even with a prenuptial agreement, as such documents only apply to the parents. They are not binding on the colleges.

Some couples delay marriage due to Social Security. Under the rules, a survivor is entitled to a share of a late spouse’s benefits. But survivors who remarry before age 60 lose the benefits. We met one couple in which the wife’s first husband died when they were both in their early fifties. She remarried in her mid-fifties. Then the she divorced her new husband at age 59 to be eligible for Social Security Survivor’s Benefits. After turning 60 and qualifying for those benefits, the couple remarried.

Similar rules apply to government pensions. A surviving spouse can be entitled to half of a late spouse’s pension. But if the surviving spouse remarries before age 55, they lose the pension.

Lawyers urge unmarried couples to draw up agreements specifying who is responsible for expenses and who will inherit assets.   Many couples ignore this advice, but the loose arrangements can result in messy legal problems. One example is of a couple who lived together for years in a property owned by one partner. When that partner died, children claimed the property and evicted the survivor. Legal agreements protecting both parties are highly recommended.

If legal agreements are not made about living arrangements, at the very least health proxies should be signed, giving each the authority to make health decisions for the other. Without such legal documents hospitals often block access to records or make it difficult for the healthy partner to visit. These proxies are intended to prevent such problems.

Whether you are remarried or happily “living in sin,” you should consult an attorney to make sure your wishes are clearly stated in writing. If you have any concerns or questions about these issues, we at Hornstein Law Offices are here to help. Whether you have financial concerns or need health proxies drawn up, our office has the knowledge to assist with all your needs. For a free consultation, give us a call at your earliest convenience at 818.887.9401.