Financial tips for same-sex couples as the legal and social landscape changes

Retirement Planning Associated Press

Gay and lesbian individuals are less prepared financially for retirement than their straight counterparts, according to an exclusive analysis by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

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LGBT adults are likely to have less in retirement savings and have less access to Social Security benefits from spouses. They are also more likely to need long-term care because fewer have children to care for them as they age. Varying state laws also make it difficult for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender couples to plan for retirement.

Here are planning tips for LGBT couples:

KNOW LOCAL LAWS: Even though 35 of the 50 U.S. states and Washington, D.C. allow same-sex marriage, LGBT couples still face significant legal hurtles in many areas that could impact their financial well-being. If you're moving to a state that bans same-sex marriage, make sure you're financially prepared for the fact that Social Security will not be available for your surviving partner. Inheritance laws also vary from state to state.

RE-CHECK YOUR EMPLOYER'S POLICIES: Corporate America's stance on gay rights has changed dramatically over the last 15 years. Ninety one percent of companies in the Fortune 500 have policies banning discrimination based on sexual orientation, up from 61 percent in 2002, according to the Human Rights Campaign. For employees of those companies, it means medical coverage, pension and 401(k) inheritance rights are now fairly common for same-sex spouses. It's worth checking your employer's latest policies.

LONG-TERM CARE INSURANCE: Without children to care for you as you age, it is likely you'll need some sort of assisted living service. Such help is not cheap. A part-time in-home health aide costs around $30,000 a year while a private room at a nursing home could run you as much as $94,000, according to a 2013 survey by John Hancock Life Insurance Co. Those costs are expected to keep rising. Financial planners recommend long-term care insurance, particularly for people without children.

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DOUBLE CHECK YOUR DOCUMENTS: It's important to make sure your savings and benefits go to the people you want after you pass away or become disabled. Add your same-sex partner to your beneficiary list for your 401(k), life insurance policies and other accounts. If you own property in a state that does not recognize same-sex marriage, speak to a financial adviser and lawyer about creating as many financial and legal protections as you can.

STRAIGHT OR GAY, YOU NEED TO SAVE: Try to put away at least 10 percent of your income each year, or enough to trigger the maximum company match in your 401(k) plan.

IF YOU CAN, GET MARRIED: For some elderly same-sex couples, this may be a big step emotionally, but you'll save your spouse a lot of financial pain if you get married sooner rather than later, especially if one of you doesn't expect to live much longer. Social Security requires couples to be married for at least one year for a surviving spouse to claim benefits.