First, let's review what lesbian and gay couples have in common with everybody:
- You need to make your money last for life, no matter how long you live and no matter what happens with the economy. The first step is to estimate how long you might live, considering your lifestyle and family history. Two great websites that can help you do this are www.livingto100.com and www.bluezones.com.
- You'll want to adopt strategies to generate a lifetime retirement income, as I've written about previously.
- You'll have to manage your living expenses, so that you make every dollar count.
- Adopting a healthy lifestyle is important, as well as doing what you can to protect against the threat of high long-term care expenses.
- Asset allocation and investment risk are primary concerns as well.
- One of you will die first, so both of you need to plan for that eventuality, so that the survivor has adequate financial resources.
- You might need to work in your retirement years to make ends meet or simply to be engaged with life.
- If you have a pension plan at work, you'll need to investigate if and how you can name your partner as a beneficiary. Some employers recognize gay marriage or other partnership arrangements, and some do not. It's not possible to make generalizations -- you'll just need to do your own homework.
- Make sure that all of your retirement and benefit programs -- pension, 401(k), IRAs, life insurance -- name your partner as your beneficiary. The same goes with buying an immediate lifetime annuity. Most insurance companies will let you name any beneficiary for a joint and survivor annuity, but you'll need to check the specific details.
- If you want to leave your estate to your partner, you'll need to be very specific about it in your will or trust. Actions that automatically occur regarding the estates of married straight couples may not happen automatically for you.
- Unfortunately, Social Security does not recognize gay marriage (see footnote 1), as was verified by a phone representative at Social Security who talked with my research associate. With a gay couple, the Social Security income that your household receives is the sum of each of your Social Security benefits, based on your own earnings record. When one of you dies, that person's Social Security income stops. This is different from married straight couples, for whom survivors' benefits are paid to the spouse.
- If you want to buy long-term care insurance as a couple, you'll need to ask the insurance company about their specific requirements for recognizing your partnership.
- If you want your partner to be able to visit you when you're in the hospital and have access to your medical information, you may want to obtain a HIPPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) release and keep it in your car. You may also want to obtain a medical power of attorney if you want your partner to make medical choices if you're unable to, or a durable power of attorney if you want your partner to make financial decisions on your behalf. Here's an excellent article from the Tucson Weekly written by an attorney that summarizes many of these issues; even though it's written for Arizona, most of the concepts are appropriate across the country.
- In your later years, you may need a younger advocate to help with household matters such as paying bills, dealing with insurance, monitoring medical care, and arranging for long-term care. With married straight couples, this is often one or more of their children. While gay couples may have children of their own, if you don't, you'll need to be deliberate about building a social network that can provide this simple yet essential support.
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