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The Complexities of Late-in-Life Marriages

The population in New York (and throughout the country) is aging. As the Baby Boomer generation enters retirement, the percentage of residents in their golden years is rising steadily. Statistics suggest that the average age will continue to increase for the next few decades.

One effect of this change is that a growing number of seniors are entering into new romantic relationships later in life. It is not necessarily uncommon for those in their 60s, 70s, or even 80s to meet new people and form strong bonds. But even though these relationship often blossom into marriage, many seniors are reluctant to legally tie the knot.

Is Marriage Appropriate?
A recent NYT story explored the difficult questions many senior couples are considering when debating whether to get married. Elder law estate planning considerations are often involved. The report highlighted one couple that decided against marriage because they “planned to leave assets to their grown children, and they worried that marriage could create legal problems.”

Another potential deterrent to marriage among seniors is fear of losing alimony, Social Security benefits, or survivor benefits. With many seniors living on tight retirement budgets, it is natural for money to be a key consideration. It is perhaps not surprising that over the last decade the total number of individual over 50 years old who are cohabiting (but not married) more than doubled–up to 2.8 million.

Relationship Estate Planning Considerations
Estate planning is essential for all New York residents, but the need is particularly acute for seniors who are considering a second marriage later in life. A few considerations to keep in mind include:

***A spouses cannot be fully disinherited unless he or she specifically agrees. This may counsel toward a prenuptial agreement or other planning to ensure assets go exactly where they are intended.

***Marriage may affect Medicaid qualification, depending on the assets treated as marital. The government program assumes that spouses will use resources to care for one another, and so a wealthier spouse may see assets going toward their new partner’s care. Importantly, a prenuptial agreement is usually insufficient to guard against this issues, as Medicaid does not take those contracts into account.

***Retirement benefits may also be tied into one’s marital status. For example, re-marriage could trigger a reduction in Social Security support or benefits received from a former spouse’s pension.

***Tax obligations change based on marriage. Depending on your specific situation this may result in a larger or smaller burden.

Be sure to talk with a NY elder law estate planning lawyer and other professionals for counsel on these and many similar matters.

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