When Your Parents Remarry, Everyone Is Happy, Right?

Posted March 23, 2018 1:30 a.m. EDT

Chris and Tina Anastasio, of San Clemente, California, who wed last year after 13 years of dating, are the embodiment of the latest trend in remarriage.

He is 84. She is 77. And not everyone was thrilled about their union.


Chris Anastasio explained.

“Tina’s youngest daughter got concerned when Tina told her we were getting married,” said Anastasio, whose two previous marriages ended in divorce. “She wanted to know, ‘Supposing you die, who’s going to get your house?'”

It’s a common theme as older people who realize they might still have years to live choose not to do it alone.

In a 2014 report on the demographics of remarriage, the Pew Research Center found that people 55 and beyond are getting remarried at higher rates than they once did.

Sixty-seven percent of previously married people ages 55 to 64 had remarried, Pew reported, up from 55 percent in 1960. Half of all adults 65 and older had remarried, compared with 34 percent in 1960.

The report’s author, senior researcher Gretchen M. Livingston, floated the idea that the reason may have to do with increasing life spans. “People realize they have many more years to live and want to find fulfillment in that extra time,” she wrote.

But the likelihood of remarrying couples in that age bracket staying fulfilled may depend on how carefully they planned their finances before walking down the aisle.

“It’s all very tricky and sometimes difficult to understand,” said Hyman G. Darling, president of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, of the money-related factors that can affect older remarrying couples. “We’ve definitely broken up some marriages” when advising couples on the financial intricacies of combining resources in their golden years, he said.

Risks attached to later-in-life marriages include the potential loss of government benefits like Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income. Income and estate tax increases, the loss of pensions or alimony and the taking on of a new spouse’s debt are also possible with the signing of a marriage certificate. Long-term health care costs and whether a new spouse is legally bound to pick up the tab for them are big issues, Darling said.

But according to Darling and Lina Guillen, an attorney and co-author of the 2017 book “Living Together: A Legal Guide for Unmarried Couples,” the problem older couples wring their hands over most when considering remarriage is how their decision will affect their adult children.

“A common reason older partners choose to remain single is that they want to leave their property to their children,” Guillen said. “Children may have expectations for a coming inheritance. Things can get sensitive when a new spouse comes along.”

The Anastasios are living proof — although they wish they weren’t. Tina Anastasio tried to reassure her daughter that Chris Anastasio had no designs on her property and hadn’t even considered the possibility of outliving her. The daughter, Laura, however, was said to be unconvinced. (The Anastasios declined to give her last name to protect her privacy).

Chris and Tina Anastasio married for love but also for practicality. Tina Anastasio is British. Before she and Chris Anastasio married, her visits to the United States were limited to three-month stretches on a visa. Although the couple loves to travel, going back and forth so frequently was stressful. “At our age, going through security at the airport is not much fun,” Chris Anastasio said.

They wed in a small ceremony without consulting a lawyer or an estate planner, which they acknowledged may have been behind the daughter’s unease.

“We were always treated like a married couple. And we started to think, the only reason we’re not married is to satisfy Tina’s daughter,” Chris Anastasio said. “We had talked about putting something in writing, saying, whatever happens she keeps her things and I keep mine and never the twain shall meet. But we decided it’s time for us to worry about us, not the kids. We have plans to put something in writing” eventually, he said, but they chose not to before the wedding.

“If a couple remains unmarried and one dies without a will, generally speaking the unmarried partner will get nothing,” Guillen said. “The property will go to blood relatives, with children being first in line.”

Remarrying couples like the Anastasios, on the other hand, have to plan ahead. What Guillen called the “gold standard” for such couples is signing both a will and a prenuptial agreement. Only then can they feel reasonably sure their grown children’s inheritance will not be contested or otherwise tampered with, she said.

Tina Anastasio, now on her third marriage after being divorced and widowed, said practical factors beyond citizenship persuaded her to marry Chris Anastasio. One was a health scare a few years ago. Navigating hospital rules after Chris Anastasio was admitted would have been easier if they had been married, she said. But had citizenship and health care proxy issues not been factors, she would have preferred to remain Chris Anastasio’s live-in partner rather than his wife. “I didn’t want to upset my daughter,” she said.

The Anastasios are outliers; many people over 55 remarry for moral or religious reasons. “There are people who say, I’m not going to live with someone without being married no matter what,” Darling said.

In addition to a clear conscience, benefits for such couples include money saved by joining households and, in some cases, depending on the state and the combined income, lower taxes.

But for many couples the minuses of remarrying often outweigh the pluses. That might be a reason, according to Pew, that the number of people over 50 who cohabit with a partner rather than marry jumped 75 percent from 2007 to 2016. And some couples are finding ways to skirt the system.

They include John Yahner and Shaune Bazner, of Washington, D.C. Yahner and Bazner, both 67 and divorced, met on in 2014. Two years ago, they started talking about marriage.

“I told Shaune, I am committed to you but not complacent. I am happy to marry you in a spiritual ceremony,” said Yahner, the father of adult triplets and an adjunct instructor at American University. Yahner joked that he wanted to avoid legal marriage to protect his “$28 in assets.”

For Bazner, an artist and jewelry designer and the mother of two grown sons, the complications of marrying included her eponymous business, an asset Yahner might have some claim to if she became his wife.

“We didn’t want to worry our kids about whatever money they would inherit, but we wanted to be something more than boyfriend and girlfriend, which sounds like you’re going to the prom,” Yahner said. So they exchanged vows, but none that bound them contractually, before an Episcopal minister friend in Maine last year.

In doing so, they have landed in a sweet spot between feeling more than casually connected to each other and protecting their children’s futures.

“We told our kids right off the bat, what we’re doing is joyful, and we don’t want to be crass about it, but your inheritance is not going to be affected,” Yahner said. They were relieved. And not just about their inheritances. “They got the real message, which is, we’re not just shacking up for a few months. We’re in it for the long haul.”