The LGBT community has always faced unique challenges—physical, emotional and financial. And despite the fact that the Defense of Marriage Act was struck down, there are still plenty of legal obstacles for transgender, lesbian and gay couples—some of them surfacing just in time for retirement.
In honor of Pride Month, we’ve combed resources and explored legal and financial circumstances that the LGBT community should be aware of when planning retirement, so that there are as few unpleasant surprises as possible waiting in the wings.
Retirement will be tough enough, considering the crisis that awaits those who haven’t saved enough; there’s no need for it to become any tougher just when it’s time to kick back and enjoy all that free time you’ve worked for all your lives.
According to SAGE, a nonprofit group focusing on improving the lives of older LGBT people, 51 percent of older LGBT people are worried they won’t have enough money as they age, compared with 36 percent of the general population. In addition, more than 40 percent of the older LGBT community fears outliving retirement savings and are “very worried” that they’ll have to work beyond retirement age; just a quarter of non-LGBT people are comparably concerned.
Those fears are based on fact. An analysis of the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds that same-sex couples have median retirement savings of just $66,000; that’s 25 percent less than opposite-sex couples, at $88,000.
And that’s not all; whether LGBT boomers are married or not, they’re less likely to be able to save for retirement thanks to discrimination in hiring and wages.
California-based think tank the Williams Institute finds that the wage gap between gay and heterosexual men goes as high as 32 percent. And a 2013 Pew Research study as well as a 2012 Gallup study found that LGBT individuals were more likely to make less money than their straight peers during their careers.
LGBT workers, according to an AP report, have faced higher unemployment, lower wages and workplace discrimination despite nondiscrimination policies that now exist in many corporations. The American Civil Liberties Union reports that “By the close of 2016, 20 states plus DC banned discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression in employment, housing, and public accommodations, and an additional three states provided incomplete statewide nondiscrimination protections.”
But that leaves 27 states where discrimination persists—and where it is still legal to fire someone for their sexual orientation.
So LGBT seniors older than 65 are more likely to end up in poverty, with the Gallup poll finding that 15.9 percent of gay men older than 65 were near or below the federal poverty line, compared with 9.7 percent of heterosexual men in the same age group. And a 2009 report by the Williams Institute showed lesbian couples older than 65 were twice as likely to live below the poverty line as opposite-sex couples.
Here are 10 rules you should follow in putting together a retirement plan that will help you and your significant other avoid turbulence on the lazy (or not) river of retirement. Some sources include Nerdwallet, New York Life, the Huffington Post, Forbes and the Associated Press, as well as the Social Security Administration and SAGE.
Since there’s such a hodgepodge of regulations and laws across the country, as well as gaps in protections even in LGBT-friendly areas, make sure to check for the most up-to-date information as you get closer to retirement. Here are the 10 tips:
10. Update any wills.
Well, no, strictly speaking wills fall under estate planning, but if you’re half of a couple, you’ll want to be sure that any funds/property you have to leave go to the person you want to have them, or their retirement could be in jeopardy.
And in some states, laws are not written so that a same-sex spouse or a domestic partner automatically inherits—for instance, a house that’s not in both names. If one of you dies, the other could end up homeless.
9. Make sure beneficiary and other designations are done carefully.
Just because you have a 401(k) at work doesn’t mean that the money will automatically go to your spouse—in fact, many LGBT folks are hesitant to put down a same-sex partner’s name as a designated beneficiary lest it cost them their jobs.
And companies in states where rights are not protected may choose not to honor such designations.
For insurance policies, you must also make sure that the relationship is recognized—particularly in the case of such products as long-term care policies bought together. And don’t forget medical powers of attorney, so that you can handle medical problems for your spouse without hassle.
8. Research Social Security benefits.
While same-sex couples are now entitled to Social Security benefits, the actual issue of whether and how their union has been legalized (or not) can affect which benefits a spouse is eligible for.
A marriage, rather than a domestic partnership or other such union, could affect whether higher benefits are available, or whether family members might be entitled to disability benefits or survivor benefits.
7. Try to save more.
Considering the plight of LGBT people who have not saved enough (or made enough), you might want to explore ways to boost your savings.
6. Try to work longer.
Sticking with a job longer can help you increase your retirement savings; so can taking on a second job or gig work. The longer you can stay on a payroll, or find an alternate source of income, the longer your retirement money will last.
5. Try to find a better job.
If at all possible, look for a job with better pay and benefits—and in a location where those are protected by law. A higher income and better access to a retirement plan, perhaps with more matching funds, will make life easier as you age.
4. Beware of the state or town where you live.
Although many states and communities have passed legislation to protect the LGBT community, others have gone in the opposite direction.
Choose carefully when it comes to a retirement destination, because an unfriendly milieu could endanger all you’ve worked for all your lives—even if not posing a physical danger, by imposing isolation or condoning casual mistreatment by businesses or employers, or even in other ways that perhaps were not of importance until retirement.
Sadly, discrimination still exists; if possible, don’t put yourselves in the way of any more of it than necessary.
Conversely, you and your spouse may be eligible for tax benefits in LGBT-friendly states, but you’ll need to be sure that eligibility extends to both (such as a widow’s/widower’s break on property taxes or a reduction for military service).
3. Choose your retirement neighborhood with care.
To avoid discriminatory treatment in housing that could result in isolation during retirement—a time during which seniors can be at risk for depression and even health problems if they feel cut off from their communities—give serious thought to whether your current home is where you want or need to stay.
Downsizing to save money and moving to a hostile area could end up costing you more than if you stay put.
2. Thoroughly investigate assisted living/care facilities.
According to an American Bar Association article, “LGBT seniors can be denied admission to nursing homes and assisted living and independent living communities because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
And even if that changes, discrimination is common in senior housing against LGBT seniors, according to a PBS report.
So if you or your spouse need to move into a facility that offers assistance with household or health issues that are beyond your control, make sure that the facility is LGBT-friendly. Such places are becoming more common, and the support you’ll find by being in a place where you do not have to hide where you are—or where you might actually fear living—is, as the saying goes, priceless.
1. Build a support system now.
LGBT people often have a far smaller network of support than the population at large, with many cut off from disapproving family members or having smaller families without children—or being alone after widowhood or divorce.
Well in advance of retirement, look for a congenial group of friends that share common interests in the hobbies and activities you love, and with whom you can act as a community to help each other in various ways.
Then you’ll have a ready network of people with whom you can trade assistance and moral support when it’s needed—the way family might support the general population.