Retirement is an important concern for all Americans — and rightfully so — but for unmarried LGBT couples, special circumstances can make retirement planning more challenging. "Particularly, if you're unmarried, there's no legal recognition of your relationship," says Elisabeth Baldwin, Vice President and Financial Consultant at Regions Investment Solutions.
Regardless of your marital status, you and your spouse or partner can prepare for retirement by planning early and ensuring that you have a complete estate plan. Ask yourselves these four questions to help secure your golden years.
1. Who Are the Beneficiaries on Our Retirement Accounts?
If you want to leave your retirement account savings to your partner, you'll need to name him or her as the beneficiary on your retirement account.
The ability to name your partner as a beneficiary on an employer-sponsored plan account will depend on your marital status and the details of your employer's plan. Some employer-sponsored retirement plans allow you to name whomever you want as a beneficiary, while others only allow you to name a spouse or a child as a beneficiary. In that situation, unmarried couples might consider additional or alternative savings vehicles, such as Individual Retirement Accounts, with more flexible beneficiary rules.
"For those who want to put away more than IRA contribution limits allow on an annual basis, there are also a number of additional options, including life insurance policies, annuities, and non-qualified accounts," Baldwin says.
2. Do We Have Wills?
In the absence of a will or trust, state law will decide your heirs for you — typically your spouse and/or nearest blood relatives. A will controls the distribution of your estate when it enters probate court, so if you're unmarried and want to leave assets to your partner, you'll need an official legal document that explicitly outlines your wishes.
Baldwin also stresses the importance of preparing a health care directive if you're unmarried. "A health care directive is a legal document that allows you to identify who can make health care decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated," she says. "Laws vary by state, so it's important to check with an expert in your area."
3. Will We Receive Spousal Social Security Benefits?
Only married spouses are entitled to their partners' Social Security benefits, so if you and your partner are unmarried, you can't count on each other's Social Security income for retirement and should budget accordingly. Use the Regions "Save for Retirement" calculator to help plan.
4. Will We Owe Estate Taxes?
Only married couples are eligible for the marital deductions that shelter partners from estate tax burdens. Unmarried couples can work with a tax professional to minimize future estate and inheritance taxes.
"Overall, planning early and continuing to update your retirement plan is key," Baldwin says. "Enlisting trusted advisors such as attorneys and financial consultants early in the process can help you form a comprehensive plan and ultimately gain peace of mind."
With the right tools and preparation, you can help ensure your retirement is just as you and your spouse or partner intended. Learn more about LGBT retirement-planning considerations in this slideshow.