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Ask Dave

Millionaire Widow Needs a Prenup

Heather's husband died from cancer several years ago. She has $3.8 million in assets. Heather is considering marriage again. Does she need a prenuptial agreement?

QUESTION: Heather in Denver says her husband died from cancer several years ago. She is now 48 with $3.8 million in assets. Heather is considering marriage again, and her potential spouse makes a great income. Does she need a prenuptial agreement?

ANSWER: Yes, you need a prenup.

I dislike prenups, and I generally tell people not to do prenups. And for years, I told them to never do them because I always said if you love your money more than you love somebody else, then don’t marry them. You’re not ready for marriage.

Here’s the problem I’ve run into because I started working with a lot of very wealthy people, and you’re a very wealthy person. Your potential fiancé is not. The problem is not you two. The problem is that numbers of this size invite crazy into your life in one way or another, and I don’t know which door it’s going to use, so I don’t know which door to tell you to lock.

I’m just saying I don’t know if it’s his mother. I don’t know if it’s his kid. I don’t know if it’s his first cousin. I don’t know if it’s one of your kids. But somebody goes off the ranch and starts affecting this whole situation all of a sudden, and then the legacy that was your first marriage is destroyed because you didn’t have this in place. And I don’t really suspect either one of you—the two people involved. You’re not usually the problem. But it’s somebody one ring out that goes into crazy mode or is already in crazy mode and just hasn’t been exposed yet. I see it with athletes. I see it with artists. And that’s where I started running into it.

You guys are pretty functional people. Obviously, there’s not a lot of toxicity around you or in this situation. You’re stable people with high values, and those kinds of things, which causes you to be disturbed by even asking the question. Those are wonderful indicators that crazy is probably not that close to you. But it can be, and there’s just too much on the line here, so what I would want to do is just take that off the table.

What you could do is choose—and I would not make it part of the prenup—to say we might rewrite this thing every so many years and move portions of it out to where let’s say you’re married 30 more years, then maybe at that point it’s all ours because we built a life together. But for the first five years, no.

There’s too much imbalance. We’re not bringing equal amounts to the table. The only reason I do it is because you’re in an extreme situation. I don’t suggest a prenup except in extreme situations, and this is an extreme situation. I would say I want to do it to protect our relationship so that there’s never any hint that this money is a problem. It’s just not in the discussion. It’s not a problem. We’ve got enough other things to deal with.