Things to consider before pairing up later in life

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Before deciding whether to get married or just live together, you need to look at your estate plan, your Social Security benefits, and your potential long-term care needs, among other things.

Some things to think about:

Estate planning. Getting married will affect your estate plan, whether you intend to change it or not. Even if you don't include a new spouse in your will, he or she is automatically entitled to a share of your estate.

One way to prevent a spouse from taking his or her share is to enter into a pre-, or post-, nuptial agreement in which both spouses agree not to take anything from the other's estate.

If you want to leave something to your spouse and still ensure your heirs receive their inheritance, a trust is another option.

Long-term care. Trusts and prenuptial agreements don't necessarily keep spouses from being responsible for long-term care costs. In addition, getting married can have an effect on you or your spouse's Medicaid eligibility.

The family home. Whether you are getting married or just living together, before combining households you will need to think about what will happen to the house once the owner of the house dies.

If the owner wants to keep the house within his or her family, putting the house in both names is not advisable. The owner usually does not want his or her heirs to evict the surviving partner once the owner dies.

One solution is for the owner of the house to give the surviving spouse or partner a life estate. Once the surviving spouse dies, the house will pass to the original owner's heirs.

Social Security. Many divorced or widowed seniors receive Social Security from their former spouses, and remarriage can affect benefits.

If you are divorced after at least 10 years of marriage, you can collect retirement benefits on your former spouse's Social Security record if you are at least age 62 and if your former spouse is entitled to or receiving benefits.

If you remarry, you generally cannot collect benefits on your former spouse's record unless your later marriage ends (whether by death, divorce or annulment).

However, if you are a widow, widower or surviving divorced spouse who remarries after age 60, you are entitled to benefits on your prior deceased spouse's Social Security earnings record.

Alimony. If you are receiving alimony from a divorced spouse, it will likely end once you remarry. Depending on the laws in your state and your divorce settlement, alimony might end even if you simply live with someone else.

College financial aid. Single parents with children in college might want to reconsider before getting married. A new spouse's income could affect the amount of financial aid the college student receives.

Brian T. Treacy is an elder law and estate planning attorney with an office in Bluffton.

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