Should Grandma Divorce Grandpa?

Should Grandma Divorce Grandpa? By Liz Pulliam Weston appears at MSN Money. The population of divorced people over 65 has exploded in the past 15 years, and elder-law attorneys suspect money is at least partly to blame. The idea that money might be a factor in divorce isn't news. But instead of fighting over their money, these attorneys say, older people who divorce might be trying to preserve it. Christine Crawford of Aurora, Ohio, started divorce proceedings after her husband's care for dementia consumed more than $100,000 of their savings.

Crawford said she didn't want to divorce her husband, with whom she'd raised three children, but it was the only way to preserve what was left of their life savings.

"All along I kept saying, 'Absolutely not. I won't do that,' " said Crawford, whose husband died before the divorce was final. "I was so proud of the fact we'd been married for 42 years."

Trapped by aid-program rules
To understand why Crawford faced such a wrenching decision, you need to understand some background:

Medicare, the government insurance program for people 65 and over, doesn't cover long nursing-home stays.
But Medicaid, the federal health program for the poor that does cover such care, generally requires people to exhaust their financial resources before they can qualify for help.
When one spouse gets sick, many married couples face the uncomfortable prospect of having to "spend down" most of their assets to qualify for Medicaid, leaving little for the healthy spouse to live on. If the spouses divorce, however, the healthy spouse may be able to preserve more of the couple's assets.Elder-law attorneys suspect that's among the reasons the proportion of people over 65 who list their marital status as "divorced" has risen nearly 60% since 1990, compared with an 8% rise in the proportion of divorced adults overall.

The attorneys fear the trend may accelerate in coming years, at least in some states, because of recent changes in Medicaid laws that make it tougher to qualify. I outlined some of those changes in "Feds target Grandma's Medicaid."

I concur with the author's sentiments that our federal laws should not encourage divorce.