Estate Planning After Remarriage

Susan is a widow and contemplating marriage with a widower. They each have a sizable estates and wonder if finances should still be combined.

QUESTION: Susan in Nashville is a widow, and she’s contemplating marriage with a widower. They each have sizable estates and wonder if finances should still be combined if they want to make sure their children get what they’re supposed to get upon their parent’s death. Dave thinks they need to combine finances but can will their assets separately.

ANSWER: I think your primary goal is to your spouse. Your primary motivation needs to be your spouse. That sounds weird when I say that out loud to you in a situation like this, because it’s really easy for you to put your kids ahead of your spouse. Relationally, it’s dangerous.

You said you’re a widow and a widower with sizable estates, so if you left none of your estate to him, he’d be fine. If he left none of his estate to you, you’d be fine. In the meantime, it’s yours together. You can keep it titled separately, you can will it separately, and I don’t have any issue with that, but you need to view—while you’re both alive—the management of it as together.

The number-one priority is that you’re okay financially when he passes, and he’s okay financially when you pass. If that goal is met, then we can just go ahead and have the agreement that I’m going to will my stuff to my kids. I don’t have any problem with that. The thing is, you’ve just got to make sure that there are not any little wedges.

Let’s pretend the kids weren’t grown and they were in the house. We wouldn’t let them run the house, and we wouldn’t let them drive a wedge between the two of you. You’ve got to be conscious of who’s in charge. You just have to be careful that relationally, everybody knows that your husband is first, and once he’s taken care of and he’s good with it and you will the rest to the kids, that’s fine. I have no issue with that. These kids don’t really have rights to this money, but because both of you are individually set up well, you have the luxury of being able to leave it to them. Don’t let the will be a surprise announcement. The will is just the methodology for executing what we’ve all agreed a long time ago was going to happen.

More than anything, you want to train your kids on how to treat your husband after your passing. And I want his kids to set you in a seat of respect after his passing. That kind of stuff you’re very wise to talk about upfront. A lot of breakdown occurs when there are unmet expectations because people didn’t have them laid out ahead of time, where there wasn’t clarity, where there weren’t strong character and values. You’ve got the opportunity to do this right.