By the time some single or divorced people reach age 50 or 60, they’ve sworn off marriage, even if they’re in a committed relationship. Aside from all the emotional and social reasons that go into such a decision, legal issues can often sway the pendulum.
Following are six reasons to consider when contemplating marriage — for better and for worse.
#1 Social Security. When a spouse dies, the surviving spouse will receive the higher of the partners’ Social Security benefits.
#2 Pension. Spouses can leave a percentage of their pensions to one another. Unmarried partners cannot. (Note this applies to pensions only, not 401ks.)
#3 Debt. If your intended is a spendthrift, you’ll be marrying his or her money management issues. Any debt that accumulates once you are married — whether you know about it or not — will be considered yours, too. Marriage may not be the best idea in this situation, particularly if you have assets you want to pass along to children.
#4 Assets and heirs. Keeping assets separate is easier when you aren’t married. If you have assets and/or children and want to marry, you should consider a prenuptial agreement to ensure your assets are handled the way you wish. Also, remember you don’t need to be married in order to name your partner as a beneficiary in your will and/or insurance policies.
#5 Health care costs. Health care costs should be carefully considered when deciding to marry. Even if both partners have $500,000 in assets, the sum could disappear quickly if one needs long-term care. (Medicaid will still look to reclaim costs even after one is deceased.) Some couples choose not to marry in order to protect one another’s assets. Others resolve the issue by purchasing long-term care insurance as part of a prenuptial agreement and wedding planning. Of course, that’s subject to both partners qualifying for and being able to afford the insurance.
#6 Decision-making. A lot of people think that marriage allows one spouse to make decisions for the other if the latter is somehow incapacitated. That’s myth. Regardless of marital status, you will need legal documentation (powers of attorney) in order to make health care and financial decisions on behalf of one another. Some people prefer to have their grown children making decisions on their behalf. Either way, nothing is guaranteed without health care and financial powers of attorney.
By Maureen Kinney, Partner, Johns, Flaherty & Collins, SC. For a La Crosse divorce lawyer, call her at 608-784-5678.