When the U.S. Supreme Court granted same-sex couples the right to marry this June, gay and lesbian couples across the nation finally gained access to the legal and financial benefits of marriage. Some gay and lesbian couples waited half a century or more for the right to marry, but now some of those couples face a heartbreaking choice. Retirement experts say that gay and lesbian seniors who finally exchange their vows could risk losing crucial retirement benefits, such as subsidized home care or disability payments.
Although most Americans probably associate the LGBT movement with young, Millennial activists, U.S. seniors played a crucial role in the recent landmark decisions on gay marriage. The U.S. Supreme Court initially heard United States v. Windsor, which was based on the lawsuit of Edith Windsor, 86, after she was denied federal estate tax exemption upon the passing of her spouse.
So after SCOTUS officially extended marriage rights to same-sex couples, many older gay and lesbian couples rushed to get their long-awaited marriage licenses.
But experts say that could leave many couples financially vulnerable; for instance, many seniors depend on Medicaid to cover nursing home care. As the Baby Boomer population ages, the U.S. population of seniors (ages 65 and above) has never been higher, and up to 90% of older Americans wants to continue living in their own homes for as long as possible. Programs like Medicaid can help make that possible, but if a gay or lesbian senior marries, their combined financial assets could disqualify them from such programs.
“It’s a matter of ‘Be careful what you ask for,’” says retirement expert Anthony Timiraos. “Now [LGBT people] have all the issues involving marriage that straight people do.”
SAGE USA is a nonprofit that serves LGBT seniors, and the group recently created “Talk Before You Walk,” an educational program that helps seniors weight the financial pros and cons of marriage.
SAGE Executive Director Michael Adams says, “our concern is that people will make a decision based on that excitement instead of taking a step back and considering the implications.”