Recently, I was talking to somebody about the topic of wills and inheritances. Our conversation centered on how family issues can play a big role in how things play out, and how situations can get complicated with dividing things up.
The topic of my blog came up, and I mentioned that I’ve written a few posts on this topic of late. First I shared the feedback from my post on siblings dividing an inheritance, and then I brought up my fairly recent post on 401(k) accounts and inheritances. The latter discussed how it’s important for people later in life to understand the specific rules on beneficiaries, as many people end up seeing their money go to someone other than who they thought would get the money. This is particularly true with adult kids and remarriages. Personally, I find this stuff to be fascinating, with the dynamics and dilemmas that are involved in such situations.
The conversation ended up going to a story that this friend told me about someone he knew (might have been extended family, but I missed that detail) whose uncle had remarried later in life, after having 2 kids from his first marriage. The man married a woman who had kids from her first marriage as well; it was either 2 or 3 kids – again, don’t remember that detail. What’s most important is that they remarried later in life, and both had multiple grown children coming into this union.
Anyway, the man died after a few short years of marriage, and left his assets to his new wife. All his assets. She got everything.
Now, he was very close to his adult kids. Additionally, for years prior to getting remarried, he had told them that eventually they would get everything he had. However, upon getting remarried, something changed in that equation. Whether he got swept up in marriage, or it was an oversight, or whatever the reason was, his will indicated that his assets would pass to the 2nd wife. That’s right: his adult kids would get nothing, even though he was very close to them.
Now, she was apparently fairly well off, and had seemingly accumulated a decent nest egg, as his story went. My friend didn’t know the specifics, but apparently the woman’s first husband died and she had a sum of money from that marriage. He assumed she might have had more money than her husband – the person my friend knew.
What did the woman do with the inheritance? She kept it, using it for herself and her own kids.
That’s where I’m left to disagree with that approach.
My friend had more of an “it is what it is” opinion about this. In other words, he had the view that it was her money, so the woman could do what she wanted with it. If her husband gave her the money, it’s hers. He wanted to give it to her, so why shouldn’t she take it?
My view is different. While I acknowledge that the money would legally belong to the woman since she inherited it, morally and ethically she should share it with the man’s adult kids. My reasoning is this: they were a part of their father’s life from the moment they were born up until his very end, which means their birth to their 30’s. The second wife in the remarriage was only his wife for a few short years later in life. Thus, they should get priority. Even if he didn’t have them in the will, it seems like the right thing to do for her to either:
- Give his assets to them entirely; or
- Give most of his assets to them entirely, and keep a small portion for herself.
My friend’s comments were along the lines of the wife needs to come first, before kids, even if she was married for just one day rather than a few short years as was actually the case. The thinking was that this follows his view of the hierarchy of a man’s responsibilities and that the kids are younger and can take care of themselves easier.
My thinking is different. I believe that since she’s his second wife, and he only knew for a few years later in life, she is far less deserving of his pre-marital assets than his kids. To me, any assets accumulated before the 2nd marriage should be given back to the adult kids of the man. Then, the woman can keep the assets accumulated from the start of the marriage until the man’s passing. That seems more fair to me, with the kids having priority for pre-marital money.
Bottom line is that I think that while the 2nd wife legally got all the money, it just seems wrong for her to keep most of it. Rather, the man’s adult kids should be a priority, and she should recognize that.
Again, she’s apparently not poor and already had assets of her own already.
My Questions for You:
1. Who do you agree with: my friend, or me?
2. While this may seem impossible to picture yourself in that woman’s situation, what would you do if you were a spouse in her exact situation? How would you handle it, considering the factors I mentioned
Please feel free to share this article with anyone dealing with a blended family situation who could benefit from reading it. It’s great to raise awareness of such issues, and let people know that they’re not alone in managing this type of situation.