LGBT Seniors Urged to “Talk Before You Walk” Down the AisleLGBT Seniors Urged to “Talk Before You Walk” Down the Aisle

Now that all US states recognize marriage equality, LGBTQ seniors are walking down the aisle in greater numbers. Apart from romance and companionship, marriage offers special benefits like the right to visit your spouse if he or she is in the hospital. But marriage might complicate your financial picture, especially if one or both of you are eligible for senior benefits. That’s why national LGBT senior advocacy group SAGE is encouraging older couples to “Talk Before You Walk” down the aisle. Here are some of the issues they urge seniors to think over before saying “I do.”

LGBTQ marriage is protected; other rights aren’t (yet)

The first thing to consider is whether getting married may make you a target for other types of unfair treatment. Despite the legality of same-sex marriage, LGBTQ people aren’t protected by federal anti-discrimination laws when it comes to housing or employment. Until there’s a national law against discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, SAGE encourages seniors to consider whether a splashy wedding or a legal record of your marriage might precipitate discrimination by your employer, landlord, or others.

Your federal benefits eligibility may change

Combining your assets with your partner’s can be a net positive, but there might be drawbacks. Benefits from Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Veterans Administration can all be affected – for better or for worse – by your marital status and your combined income and net worth. For example, Medicaid recipients who marry a partner with more income or assets may no longer qualify for coverage.

It’s not as much fun as picking out china patterns or wedding flowers, but you should get in touch with each benefits program you’re part of—or expect to be part of—and ask how marriage might affect your eligibility.

Your tax status will change

The tax break that some married couples get for filing jointly is often cited as one of the big financial benefits of wedlock. But according to Forbes, if you and your partner have similar income levels you may end up paying more altogether by filing jointly than you would if you each paid separately. The best time to sort this out is before you marry. Talk to your accountant and financial planner—and if you don’t have those advisors, now is the time to pick them out together.

Your estate planning needs will change

This is an issue that many older couples face, especially those who hope to pass on their homes or other assets to heirs, friends, or charitable groups. Married people are usually entitled to a portion of their deceased spouse’s estate automatically, even if the intention was for all of it to be passed on to other heirs. If you and your partner live in a community property state and ultimately divorce, you will have to split your assets down the middle, which may leave your intended heirs with less than you had hoped to pass on. For these reasons, it’s a good idea to talk with your financial planner and an attorney to decide whether a prenuptial agreement is a good idea in your situation. Many older adults use “prenups” as a way to protect their assets and clarify estate plans.

None of these discussions about taxes, inheritances, and benefits programs is especially romantic. But the time it takes to talk about these issues before you get married will pay off in the form of a more secure and predictable life together, and that’s something to cherish.

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance writer whose childhood was made awesome by her grandmothers, great-grandmother, great-aunts and -uncles, and their friends.


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