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Estate Planning Questions for Couples with a Big Age Gap

June 14, 2024
For couples with an age difference of 10 years or more, assets need to last significantly longer to cover both of their retirements, making the risks of missteps higher.

Even if it was never an issue in the past, when couples with a significant age gap reach their 60s and 70s, the age difference can present challenges. When one partner is ten or more years younger than the other, assets need to last longer, and the impact of poor planning or mistakes can be far more complex. The article in Barron’s “Big Age Gap With Your Spouse? What You Need to Know” explains several vital issues.

Examine healthcare coverage and income needs. Health insurance can become a significant issue, especially if one partner is old enough for Medicare and the other does not yet qualify. How will the couple ensure health insurance if the older partner retires and the younger depends on the older partner for healthcare? The younger partner must buy independent healthcare coverage, which can be a budget-buster.

Be strategic about Social Security. Experts advise having the older spouse delay taking Social Security benefits if they are the higher-income partner. If the older spouse passes, the younger spouse can get the bigger of the two Social Security benefits. Delaying benefits means the benefits will be higher.

Planning for RMDs—Required Minimum Distributions. Roth conversions may be a great option for couples with a significant age gap. Large traditional tax-deferred individual IRAs come with large RMDs. When one spouse dies, the surviving spouse is taxed as a single person, which means they’ll hit high tax brackets sooner. However, if the couple converted their IRAs to Roths, the surviving spouse could withdraw without taxes.

Estate planning becomes trickier with a significant age gap, especially if the spouses have been married before. Provisions in their estate plan need to be made for both the surviving spouse and children from prior marriages. An estate planning attorney should be consulted to discuss how trusts can protect the surviving spouse, so no one is disinherited. Beneficiary accounts also need to be checked for beneficiary designations.

Couples with a significant age gap need to address their own mortality. A younger partner who is financially dependent on an older partner needs to be involved in estate and finance planning, so they know what assets and debts exist. Life has a way of throwing curve balls, so both partners need to be prepared for incapacity and death.

Plans should be reviewed more often than for couples in the same generation. A lot can happen in six months, especially if one or both partners have health issues.

Reference: Barron’s (May 19, 2024) “Big Age Gap With Your Spouse? What You Need to Know.”

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