Don’t Do It

An elderly relative of mine died recently.  Her death certificate says she died from complications of an existing chronic health problem.  However, I would argue that the real cause of death was entering into a late in life 2ndmarriage.   Let me explain…

My relative was a widow and she met a wonderful gentleman who was a widower.  About 8 years ago when she was in her late 70’s and he was in his mid 80’s they decided to get married.  At the time they were both in pretty good health.  She was financially comfortable and although his assets were more modest they realized that two could live more efficiently than one.  They agreed to a pre-nup where they would keep their assets separate and live in her house so he could sell his.  When she told me of her plans I reached out to her and told her that she was taking one big financial risk and she needed to be aware of it prior to saying I do.

Although she was not my client, I explained to her that if either one of them ended up needing long term nursing care as they aged, they would have to spend through both of their assets before becoming eligible for Medicaid.  That meant that statistically since he was 7 years older, it was more likely he would need care first and having far fewer assets could leave her destitute as the community spouse.   She told me the pre-nup would have language stating that neither of them would be responsible for paying for the other’s long term care costs.  I explained that Medicaid would not be bound by that in determining eligibility for benefits.  The wedding took place and I really believe they had a good 7 years together.

About a year ago and now in his early 90’s, his health started to decline.  His family who resided 1,000 miles north of them wanted them to move north into an assisted living facility.  I think she was reluctant but willing to consider it.  Recently he had some additional health issues and was losing the ability to live independently.  She was not really up to the task of caring for him.

His family began to pressure her to sell her house so “they could pay for the assisted living”, which he really couldn’t afford for very long on his own.  She didn’t need to sell the house to fund it but his family didn’t know that, so the pressure was constant.  I think she began to fear being left destitute, and being a child of the Great Depression, that was a terrifying thought to her.  She asked his family to come and get him as his care was overwhelming her, but they refused – she was his wife after all.  In the end she felt trapped.  She ended up taking an overdose of “happy pills” (Xanax and the like) and other medications.  She was brought to the hospital unresponsive.  While there she developed pneumonia from the breathing tube they put in.  She never recovered and died a week later.

From my perspective, this didn’t need to happen.  They could have had the same relationship and structure without the wedding.  It would have made this final stage of life much cleaner and easier for both parties, and frankly she would still be alive.

The Bottom Line:  A late in life wedding comes with serious risks.

–Michael Ross, CFP®

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