Seniors who are married to younger spouses have a special situation for estate planning, a situation that’s become more common, according to Barron’s recent article “Couples with Big Age Gaps Require Special Attention.”
This kind of family requires planning for the older spouse’s retirement needs and healthcare costs, while determining how much of the older spouse’s wealth should go to the children from any previous marriages while balancing the needs of a future child with a younger spouse. Beneficiaries for all financial accounts, last wills and all estate documents need to be updated to include the new spouse and child. The same goes for medical directives and power of attorney forms.
Social Security and retirement account considerations differ as well. The younger spouse may begin receiving their own Social Security at age 62, or a portion of the older spouse’s Social Security, whichever is greater. If the older spouse can wait to file for Social Security benefits at age 70, the younger spouse will receive more spousal benefits than if the older spouse claims earlier. Social Security pays the survivor’s benefit, typically based upon the older spouse’s earnings.
Pension plans need to be reviewed for a younger spouse. If the pension plan allows a survivor benefit, the surviving spouse will receive benefits in the future. IRAs have different beneficiary distribution rules for couples with significant age differences. Instead of relying on the standard Uniform Lifetime Tables, the IRS lets individuals use the Joint Life and Last Survivor Expectancy Table, if the sole beneficiary is a spouse who is more than ten years younger. This allows for smaller than normally Required Minimum Distributions from the IRA, allowing the account a longer lifetime.
Families that include children with special needs also benefit from trusts, as assets in the trust are not included in eligibility for government benefits. Many families with such family members are advised to use an ABLE Savings Account, which lets the assets grow tax free, also without impacting benefit eligibility. There are limits on the accounts, so funds exceeding the ABLE account limits may be added to special needs trusts, or SNTs.
A trustee, who may be a family member or a professional, uses the SNT assets to pay for the care of the individual with special needs after the donor parents have passed. The child is able to maintain their eligibility for those government benefits.
For same sex couples, revocable or irrevocable trusts may be used, if the couple is not married. Nontraditional families of any kind with children require individual estate plans to protect them, which usually involves trusts.
Trusts are also useful when there are children from different marriages. They can protect the children from the first marriage and subsequent marriages. A wisely constructed estate plan can do more than prevent legal battles among children—they can preserve family harmony in the non-traditional family after parents have passed.
Estate planning for couples with big age differences is often more complicated and is deserving of a special review with an experienced estate planning attorney. If the older spouse is starting to have health issues that cause a concern for long-term care needs, that attorney should be one that practices in Elder Law. If you do not already have such an attorney, you can search for one on on the National Academy for Elder Law Attorneys website, naela.org.
Reference: Barron’s (July 27, 2021) “Couples with Big Age Gaps Require Special Attention”