As we discussed in a recent blog post, it is more common than ever for single residents of continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs, also known as life plan communities), to engage in romantic relationships with one another. With so many opportunities for social interaction at CCRCs, it’s no wonder that singles would meet and pair up.
And thanks to websites like match.com, eHarmony, and Howaboutwe.com, finding a romantic partner later in life is simpler than ever, even for those living in their own home. As a result, seniors entering later-in-life marriages are increasing in number. While there are many positives to committing to a person you love, seniors should also consider the issues that can arise from a new marriage in their Golden Years.
The advantages of senior marriage
This is the obvious positive and thus at the top of the list. Finding someone to spend the rest of your life with is one of the main reasons that people want to get married…at any age. Add to that the many studies that show the decline in health that is often associated with seniors living alone and it’s easy to see why people would want to tie the knot, even later in life.
In sickness (and health)
It is nice to have companionship with the mundane chores of life, but it is especially helpful during times of illness or injury, which can be difficult for seniors to manage alone. A spouse is often charged with helping a sick partner with activities of daily living (ADLs), assisting with meal preparation, medications, and more–tasks that would otherwise have to be outsourced to a friend, family member, or a home health aide.
That “in case of emergency” line that seems to appear on every piece of paperwork is a no-brainer for married people. From healthcare proxies to estate planning to beneficiaries on insurance policies–logistical planning decisions are typically simpler when seniors are married.
Financially speaking, life is kinder to some people than to others. Seniors who are less financially secure obviously can benefit from finding a partner who is more well-to-do. And while money can’t buy happiness, having fewer money worries does make life simpler, especially as we age and potentially have larger medical bills to pay. Pooling assets with a spouse may make it financial feasible to consider a senior living option like a CCRCs, which may have otherwise been out of reach to a single senior.
The potential downside of a later-in-life marriage
On the flipside, a marriage between two seniors can get really sticky financially. A recent article in the Hartford Courant discusses these numerous potential pitfalls, which include becoming financially responsible for your spouse’s healthcare expenses incurred during the time of the marriage. “For richer or poorer” can become “just plain poorer” quickly once medical bills start to pile up.
For those marriages that make it “until death do us part,” estates can become complicated, especially for people on a second marriage. Elder and estate laws vary from state to state, and typically, a spouse legally inherits their deceased partner’s real property, but that general rule can get muddied if there is an ex-spouse and/or children from a previous relationship in the picture who may have a claim to a portion of the estate.
Impact on other familial relationships
Speaking of previous marriages, not everyone may be thrilled to learn that a senior is tying the knot. Adult-children may have a difficult time accepting their parent’s new mate, especially if that child’s other parent has died or if the child perceives that their other parent was wronged by the one who is remarrying. And siblings can even turn on each other if one supports the parent’s remarriage and another doesn’t. It truly can create life-long familial strife.
It’s a commonly cited statistic that approximately 50 percent of marriages end in divorce in the U.S., and seniors in later-in-life marriages are not immune. Again, laws vary from state to state, but a divorce between seniors (sometimes called a “silver divorce”) can be extremely costly, even compromising retirement plans that have been in the works for decades. Just imagine as a senior, if you had to hand over half of your property to someone you have only been with for a (relatively) short time–it can be emotionally and financially devastating. Hopefully your later-in-life marriage will be happy, but it may be wise to at least consider a prenuptial agreement.
Before seniors head to the wedding chapel…
While there are clear benefits to pursuing wedded bliss, regardless of the number of gray hairs on your head, there are also potential drawbacks to taking that later-in-life walk down the aisle. Before you put a ring on your partner, consider the pros and cons. You may even want to consult with an attorney to get a better understanding of the elder, estate, and divorce laws in your state. In the end, you might determine that you can have all of the benefits of marriage–companionship, intimacy, financial and emotional support–without an actual marriage certificate.
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