“Meet with an elder care attorney to see what your options are,” personal finance author Jane Bryant Quinnrecommends, referring to the question of whether marriage is a good financial move for older couples.
Saying “I do”, Quinn points out, is the key to accessing state and federal spousal and survivor benefits. If one of the couple doesn’t qualify for Medicare on his or her own, marriage will allow them to access those benefits.
As spouses filing income taxes jointly, married couples may enjoy some tax savings, and a spouse inheriting an IRA account will get better tax benefits than an unmarried partner under Minimum Required Distribution rules, Quinn mentions.
On the other hand, “I don’t” can preserve widows’ and widowers’ pension benefits or veterans’ benefits that would be lost upon remarriage.
One very important potential disadvantage of tying the knot, Quinn warns, is that spouses can be held responsible for each other’s medical bills, potentially including bills for long-term care.
(The Indiana Supreme Court extended “secondary liability” to both spouses and found medical expenses to be a necessary expense. The debtor spouse retains primary liability for necessary expenses and is responsible for the entire medical debt they incur. If the cost of medical care exceeds the debtor spouse’s separate funds and the debtor spouse is dependent on a financially superior spouse, then secondary liability is imposed on the non-debtor spouse.)
This medical bill responsibility issue, Quinn is careful to point out, trumps any prenuptial agreements. A live-in partner would not be liable for the ill partner’s bills.
The case for marriage isn’t as solid as it often sounds,” concludes Quinn, “especially for older couples of any sex. Sometimes it pays to live together in unwedded bliss.” Traditional values and romance often rule the decision, Quinn acknowledges. Still, she cautions, if you decide to get married, “it is best to know how that choices affects your finances.”
At Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates, our lawyers work with couples of many different ages in very different situations. We know each case demands very personalized estate and elder law planning, and we provide individualized recommendations to meet each client’s particular needs.
– by Ronnie of the Rebecca W. Geyer blog team