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Financially Speaking

Marriage and Money: Talk Before Taking the Leap

Good advice, especially if you're older

Next, consider whether marriage would come at a cost. Widows and widowers of public employees who receive a pension might lose it if they remarry. The same is true of certain veterans benefits, including health care. Every retirement plan is different, however, so check it out.

Widows and widowers who remarry at 60 or older can collect benefits on their late spouse's Social Security account. At 62, they can switch to their new spouse's account, if the benefit will be higher. The same is true for qualified divorced spouses. Check your personal situation with Social Security. Alimony typically ends, both for remarrieds and live-ins.

Full disclosure of credit history and debts is particularly important if you expect your mate to share living expenses. You aren't responsible for debts your spouse brings to the marriage, but they can burden a partnership and alert you to careless spending that might make you back away.

One thing might surprise you: In many states, spouses are responsible for each other's medical bills, including bills for long-term care. So how is your beloved's health? Does he or she have long-term care insurance? This is perhaps the most important thing to consider in marriage when you're older. Yet "unless one of them has lost a previous spouse after a long illness, these expenses aren't on the radar screen," says planner Scott Laue of Savant Capital Management in Rockford, Ill.

Check your state's rules on qualifying for Medicaid, the government program that pays long-term care bills for people whose incomes and assets are small. If you're married and your spouse enters a nursing home, the law lets you exempt the house, a car, and some income and assets before tapping any additional assets to help pay the bills.

Next: Is a prenup a good idea? >>

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