Getting married over 50? Don't be surprised if your news brings a few confused looks along with congratulations.
Singles and unmarried couples now outnumber married couples in the U.S., but there are still plenty of good reasons—from romantic to financial—for couples to get married over 50. Here are five of the best:
#1 Reason to Get Married Over 50: Love
The most traditional reason to get married over 50, or at any age, is still the best: love.
Couples who live together outside marriage no longer face the societal pressures and judgments they once did, and there are certainly compelling reasons for people over 50 to remain single, yet many older couples still choose to marry.
Studies consistently show that the number of couples over 50 who cohabit rather than marry is on the rise, but there is something deeply meaningful about publicly declaring your commitment to love, honor and cherish the person with whom you have chosen to share your life, no matter what the years may bring.
Vows such as "in sickness and in health" and "until death do us part," whether spoken or implied, are not vague concepts to couples who get married over 50. Once we pass the half-century mark, most of us have logged enough years and experiences to know what it means to face deteriorating health and changing fortunes, and we know those things don't happen only to other people.
Couples who get married over 50 have few illusions about aging and the end of life. Their joy comes from consciously committing to share the best and the worst of whatever lies ahead for them both.
#2 Reason to Get Married Over 50: Cost of Living
While it may be a stretch to say that two can live as cheaply as one, it is certainly true that two people together can live on far less money than two people apart. Married couples enjoy economies of scale that single people simply can't equal—unless they cohabitate.
When two single people living separately decide to marry, the total amount they pay for everything from housing to food to medical insurance immediately goes down. Some things may stay the same, such as auto maintenance if they both continue to need their own cars, but married couples often get better rates for auto insurance.
Bottom line: most living expenses will decrease dramatically when two people begin sharing the cost of one household.
#3 Reason to Get Married Over 50: Tax Benefits
Much has been written about the "marriage penalty" that married couples face when paying their income taxes, but the truth is that marriage has plenty of legal and financial benefits, including tax benefits.
Even before Congress modified income tax regulations in 2001 to address the so-called marriage penalty, more married couples got a tax benefit from being married than paid a marriage penalty:
- 51 percent of married couples paid less tax jointly than they would have paid if they had been unmarried—about $1,300 less—according to a 1996 Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis.
- 42 percent of married couples paid more taxes by filing jointly than they would have paid if they had remained single—about $1,380 more—the CBO reported.
Although Congress eliminated the marriage penalty for most married couples, there can still be a marriage penalty for the working poor and for married couples who both earn high incomes.
When it comes to other taxes, such as estate and inheritance taxes, being married is clearly a plus. You can leave an unlimited amount of money and property to your spouse with no estate tax. In most states, your spouse will inherit automatically, even if you die without a will.
#4 Reason to Get Married Over 50: Social Security & Pensions
Under Social Security and most pension plans, spouses have benefits that domestic partners and unmarried lovers do not. If your spouse dies, many pension plans include a survivor benefit that will transfer the pension to the surviving spouse. Most do not extend the same privilege to domestic partners.
Married couples also enjoy many advantages under Social Security. If the spouse with the higher benefit dies first, Social Security will increase the surviving spouse's benefit to match the amount of the deceased spouse's monthly check.
And the benefits don't stop there.
If you never held a job, perhaps because you stayed home to care for children, you are entitled to Social Security retirement benefits based on your spouse's work history. If you are divorced but were married for at least 10 years, you can still collect benefits on your former mate's work history.
Couples who are officially single, even if they are living together, don't have any of those options. Social Security retirement benefits for single people are based solely on their own work history.
But Social Security isn't only for retirees. It also serves as a family protection plan, which is an important consideration for many baby boomers who have started families (or second families) later in life.
If a parent dies and leaves behind children who are still minors, their kids will receive Social Security benefits until they turn 18 (longer if they go to college or follow another approved educational path), and so will the surviving spouse who is left to care for them. If the parents aren't married, however, only then children will receive survivor benefits.
#5 Reason to Get Married Over 50: Spousal Rights and Privileges
Even today, married people can go places and hear things that are usually denied to single people.
If you are rushed to the emergency room or hospitalized suddenly, your spouse can go with you, consult with your doctor, and get regular updates about your condition. If you are unconscious, your spouse can make decisions about your medical care.
Your domestic partner probably won't have the legal right to do any of those things unless you have had the time and foresight to leave specific written instructions granting him or her that authority.
Spousal rights for people who are married don't end there, because being married is used as a foundation for many legal decisions. For example, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, there are 1,138 statutory provisions in federal law in which marital status is a factor in determining benefits, rights, and privileges.