Bogie and Bacall, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, Robin Wright and Clement Giraudet – A list actors with one other thing in common: they are all in age gap marriages.
In fact, Catherine Zeta-Jones set Instagram trending recently with a picture of the moment she met her husband Michael Douglas at the Deauville Film Festival. In her photos, she gazes glowingly upon the man whom she will eventually marry, despite their 25-year age gap.
But what exactly is an ‘age gap’ marriage? Historically, age gap or “May-December” relationships are ones with at least an 11-year age gap between the spouses. From Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron to Alec and Hilaria Baldwin, marriages with significant age gaps are much more common than most people realize. The increase in them among celebrities is merely a reflection of these relationships in the real world. In fact, studies have found that 8-10% of all heterosexual marriages in the Western world have a 10 year or more age gap. This rate is even higher in gay and lesbian relationships.
These numbers are significant because over the past 50 years, American life expectancy has increased. In 1960, the average lifespan was 67 years for men and 74 years for women. In comparison, in 2017 (according to the National Center for Health Statistics) the average woman is living 81.1 years while the average man is living 76.1 years.
Increased longevity is changing the playing field of marital relationship ages. Age gap marriages have some unique issues in the area of retirement, financial and estate planning that need to be addressed.
Psychology of Retiring
A unique aspect of an age gap relationship is the issue of when to actually retire – not surprising since the age gap could be a half-generation or more and each spouse could be at a different life stage psychologically especially when it comes to retirement.
“Couples with a large age gap also need to think beyond the obvious items and consider the psychological side of their entry point into retirement,” says Ben Flood, CFP, Bigelow Investment Advisors, LLC in Portland, Maine. “Will they retire simultaneously, or will the younger spouse continue to work for many years while the older spouse is in retirement? This can affect the dynamics of the relationship in ways that they haven’t experienced before.”
The vision of retirement must be discussed in depth in these relationships so that both spouses’ expectations are met. Working with a financial planner, attorney or other financial professional can help navigate these issues and ensure peace of mind that the approach to retirement will result in success for both parties.
Playing the Math Game
Further, age gap couples have to realign their financial planning on issues ranging from asset allocation to distribution patterns from investment accounts. Again, it is a balance between keeping the older spouse’s interests in line with the younger spouse’s time horizon.
“If the couple bases their entire asset allocation on the older partner with a shorter time horizon, the surviving partner may have missed out on additional growth and earnings due to a more conservative allocation,” says Zachary Welborn, a financial advisor with Manske Wealth in Houston, Texas. “Investing in a way that suits both partners’ goals and time horizons is imperative.”
Further, age-gap couples really need to understand the different rules for withdrawing assets, especially with regard to Required Minimum Distributions (RMD) from retirement accounts. Typically, individuals calculate required withdrawals based on the Uniform Lifetime Table. However, the rules are different with certain age gap couples that could have some tax benefits.
“When it comes to calculating one’s IRA required minimum distribution, if your spouse is 10 or more years younger, you must use the Joint Life and Last Survivor Expectancy table to calculate your RMD,” say Diane Bourdo, CFP, at The Humphreys Group in San Francisco. “This will result in a smaller RMD, thus lowering your taxable income.”
Longevity and Family Friction
In an age gap marriage, one spouse (not always the older one) typically was married previously and has children. Many of these relationships have complicated family dynamics that often necessitate consideration on how to best manage the pressures from children of a previous marriage and an age gap spouse.
“Another more complicating concern is the involvement of children from a previous marriage. Often times the younger spouse accepts these children as her own but this isn’t always the case,” says Steven H. Stern, CFP at Abel Financial Management Company in Towson, Maryland. “Family communication is key in these situations to avoid future discord.”
For age gap marriages, it’s essential to have a strong estate plan which balances the longevity issues related to a younger spouse with making sure children from earlier marriages are covered.
It’s All About the Chemistry
With longevity on the rise, we will continue to see more age gap relationships flourish. While the financial planning issues in age gap marriages present unique challenges, addressing them head on can help establish better communication between the spouses as well as their respective families. After all, age is merely a number.
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