Love and marriage is wonderful (as is obvious from the photo of Alton Nichols and Betty Hall, pictured above) but for senior citizens it raises very different issues than it does for the young and newly married. One obvious issue is the fact that most seniors already have adult children, and many of those adult children are quite vocal in their concern about their mother or father becoming involved in a new love life. Before mom or dad get married, many children want to make sure that their inheritance is protected. To that end, many seniors use wills or trusts which direct that assets go to “my kids and grand-kids,” or create pre-marriage-property-settlement agreements (pre-nuptial contracts) which require that the pending bride or groom give up any interest in their new spouse’s assets.
Despite these attempts to safeguard assets for the original families, there is another hidden danger to the family wealth whenever a senior chooses to wed. A trust or pre-nuptial agreement does not protect the assets of one spouse from being drained to pay for an ill spouse’s medical costs, including long-term care costs. The “Common Law of England” required long ago that husbands and wives be legally responsible to pay for each others’ necessaries, and our own government adopted that requirement. Included in those “necessaries” are food, housing, and yes: healthcare. This includes the cost of care when someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or any other long-term illness.
To protect themselves from this hidden drain on a lifetime of earnings, healthy vigorous seniors who are considering getting “hitched” must consider the wisdom of purchasing long-term care insurance and perhaps engaging an elder law attorney to assist them with longevity planning. All this must take place before your marriage, so that you have some idea of what your real risks are. Elder law attorneys have many creative legal solutions that go beyond the traditional estate planner’s basic will and trust, which merely deal with the distribution of your assets at the time of your death, avoidance of probate, and minimization of estate taxes.
If you are over 65 and considering saying “I do,” please recognize that you are also promising to pay for your new spouse’s future long-term care medical expenses. “In sickness and in health” is a standard line in most wedding vows, and the state of Illinoise takes that vow and makes it law. In the Chigaco metropolitan area the monthly cost for assisted living expenses ranges from a low of $2,500/month to about $6,000/month, and the cost for skilled nursing home care ranges from $5,500 to $10,000/month, or more.
With these numbers in mind, it’s good to remember that when you say “I do” what you’re really saying is “I’ll pay.”