In a world where our assets are constantly under threat from usurious taxes, government largess, financial predators and rapacious offspring, there is still NO worse threat to intergenerational family wealth than a second wife.
People get married the first time for any one of a number of reasons: Family pressure, filling a void, the urge to have children, an inexplicable desire to emulate the lives of Al and Peg Bundy and passion. But these first marriages often end, sometimes with children left in their wake, and are replaced by a second marriage based on love, devotion and emotional security.
In these second (or third) marriages, often one spouse tends to be significantly older and more financially secure than his second spouse. As a result, there is the pressure exerted on him by his wife to provide for her upon his much earlier passing, and the realization that his needs are being provided for as he reaches old age (and yes, he will most likely need his wife quite a bit). Quite often, the remarried parent may not be as close to his children from the former wife and may even acquire new children. As a result, the children begin to distrust their “evil step-mother”, though at some level they are glad they do not need to care for their aging father. Simultaneously, and the children still hold out hope they shall receive some of his estate when he dies.
And on that note…
…I have had MANY consultations where second wives manipulate, berate and verbally insult their husband if his estate plan does not leave her every last penny. And, much to her credit, she usually wins: Whether out of guilt, shame, or a desire to escape the assault and just be done with the estate planning process, the husband concedes to her demands. It is an amazing spectacle to behold, and particularly difficult when they have not discussed matters beforehand and I am effectively relegated to a Spousal Finances Therapist. I have seen this scenario play itself out almost identically on countless occasions. These sessions are not easy, and I typically reaffirm many, many times with the husband whether he is okay with his final decisions, to which he usually convinces himself this is what he wanted all along…even when he obviously did not want this outcome initially.
I suppose there is some level of social commentary that should be interjected here to place a human face to this enduring oddity of successive nuptial relations. First, the second wife really is taking care of an often far-older spouse and genuinely does deserve financial allowances for this work. At another level, women are generally much more in tune with their financial requirements and fears and make sure to protect themselves (preservation with a side-order of greed), whereas men maintain a level of meat-headed bravado that allows them to think they shall always overcome adversity (confidence with a touch of foolhardiness), and are thus fine with the end result. And, let’s face it, the former wife is not oblivious as to what is going on in her ex-husband’s new marriage, may herself be remarried in a similar situation, and will also maintain a focus on providing for her offspring upon her passing.
The best way to protect against the second spouse winning an “All In Bet” for dad’s estate plan, is for the children to follow a simple three step process:
- insist that a prenuptial agreement is essential to maintain his children and grandchildren’s well-being,
- discuss how trusts naming other family members as beneficiaries and trustees can avoid conflict both during the marriage and when he is gone, and by all means
- attempt to maintain healthy relationships and communication with dad and his new wife, showing her the respect she deserves for providing the care that might otherwise fall upon you.
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