From the Philadelphia Inquirer

May 11, 2006

The author, per usual, didn't get my statements quite right, but close enough.

Alan

Financial concerns of

later-life marriage

Run the numbers first, and

protect what each already has.

 

By Dianna Marder, Inquirer Staff Writer

 

As a pastor, the Rev. Donald Martin traveled the country with his wife, Esther, leading workshops on the joys of marriage.

But Martin was concerned about more than compatibility and shared values when, as a widower, he considered marrying again at 85.

He ran the numbers -- and signed a prenuptial agreement.

Such is love in the age of longevity.  Perhaps even more than young or middle-age couples, older couples contemplating marriage have financial consequences to consider.  A woman receiving Social Security benefits from her late husband, for example, could lose that income if she remarries.

And what if a husband qualifies for Medicare years before his new wife?  Should they split the cost of her private health insurance, or should she shoulder that burden alone?  If his health deteriorates suddenly, necessitating nursing-home care, will her assets be tapped to pay that bill?  And how will they protect the money they want to leave to their heirs?

For Martin, living together outside of marriage would not have been an option.

But he and Jeanette Hershey -- they met in Pleasant View Retirement Community in Lancaster County and were married there in 2002 -- needed a way to protect what they had, while providing for one another.

So they have kept separate bank accounts, but they file a joint income-tax return.  And they split the monthly expenses for rent, utilities and food.

On outings and vacations, they also split the tab -- unless it's a special occasion like a birthday.  Each pays for his or her own clothes, haircuts and the like.  And Jeanette Hershey Martin kept her first married name legally.

Research into marriage among the aging is still in its infancy, said David Popenoe, a sociologist with Rutgers University's National Marriage Project.

We know, from U.S. Census Bureau studies, that the number of men and women 65 and older who lived together without getting married nearly doubled in the 1990s.

And Popenoe suspects that as the nation's 78 million baby boomers age (they are turning 60 this year at the rate of 330 an hour), we are likely to see more couples who are LAT:  living apart, together.

Boomers are more likely than their parents' generation to enter old age as divorcees who have become accustomed to living independently, Popenoe said.

And that makes them all the more likely to form committed romantic relationships without marrying or sharing a residence.

Meanwhile, current 70-plus women are more practical than their mothers were, said Janet Bouma, a Pittsburgh-area financial analyst.

"I see women being a lot less sappy about romance later in life," Bouma said.  These women know that financial disclosure is essential in a coupled relationship.

"If he's not willing" to be candid about his assets, Bouma said, "it's a big red flag, and you should not get married.

"You may think you have nothing to lose, but you still have at least a credit history," she said.

Some women may be afraid that asking about a man's finances too early in the dating process will scare him away, said Eva Rosenberg, a Northridge, Calif., tax specialist.

"If there's a problem bringing things up, you're better off finding out before you get married," Rosenberg said.  "If you can't talk to him now, what makes you think it will be different afterward?"

When Carol Kohfeld and John Sprague of St. Louis became a couple in 1990, they ran the numbers, too.

Both were university professors with pensions and Social Security benefits.  They wanted to hold some assets jointly, provide for each other, and leave something for their children and grandchildren.

After consulting a lawyer, Kohfeld, now 66, and Sprague, 72, declared themselves committed to one another privately -- without a ceremony -- and he gave her a ring.  But it was years before they moved in together, and they are still discussing whether to get married.

"Financial considerations have been very important in our decision not to be married at this time," Kohfeld said.  As they age and qualify for additional benefits, they have run the numbers again and again.

Initially, Kohfeld said, neither was interested in getting married, because each of their first marriages had ended painfully.

"But now it's been 16 years, and we're pretty much in love," Kohfeld said.  "If we're still together when I'm 72, I think we'll get married."

Alan Gross, 60, and Skip Drumm, 67, of Somerset County, N.J., consider themselves a nontraditional couple.

For 17 years, they had a committed relationship, but did not become husband and wife and did not live together.

"We each need our space," Gross said.

But seven years ago, Drumm had to be hospitalized briefly.  And Gross said he realized then that the rest of the world considered their relationship tenuous.

"We wanted the right to make legal decisions -- health decisions -- for each other," he said.

So the couple sought information from the National Alternatives to Marriage Project (www.unmarried.org), a national nonprofit group that seeks to end discrimination on the basis of marital status.

After much discussion, Drumm and Gross decided to marry -- surprising their friends, their family and even themselves.

Gross, who happens to be a statistician, said numbers did not enter into the couple's calculations.

"We realized getting married could benefit us," Gross said, "institutionally and for the commitment to our relationship."


Contact staff writer Dianna Marder at 215-854-4211 or dmarder@phillynews.com.

 

 

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