For months, I have been kicking this story around in my head, trying to determine the best way to tell it. It is a true story and it needs to be told so that others will not fall prey to similar circumstances. But, how does one tell the story while protecting the privacy of those involved?
The point of this is not to publicly shame or embarrass anyone, because only those involved know their true intentions. The point is to present the events, the aftermath, and possible ways someone else might avoid it.
Then it came to me. The whole thing is like the Brady Bunch gone awry. So, the story will be presented as such. And, frankly, to present it any other way would likely confuse many readers.
I’ll do my best to remain unbiased in the presentation, but I may not be privy to the whole story and these are just the “highlights”. So, if anyone wants to add anything at the end, go for it.
In this version, he is divorced, she is widowed, and all the children are grown by the time the two are married. Just to keep things simple, let’s say he has 3 sons and she has 3 daughters.
Immediately, his children noticed that family events were almost always segregated. There were holiday dinners for her family, and then (sometimes) a holiday dinner for his family (but never on the actual holiday– those dates were reserved for her family events). When it was mentioned, she said having them all together at once was just too much. It seemed reasonable even if suspect and his children did not want to cause him unnecessary stress, so everyone let it go.
Over the years there were other things, most of them small, but they added up. For example, in the livingroom were photos of her family, while the photos of his family were kept in another room few people ever saw. When his grandchildren graduated high school, his wife gave them each $10; when her own grandchildren graduated, she gave them… well.. something better. As it continued, these small things, along with his seeming acceptance of and/or complacency toward these small things, began to erode his previously close relationships with some family members. And, most of his children always felt his wife resented them.
When his health began to fail and he was diagnosed with dementia, medical bills were high. So, the couple used her lawyer to sell 100+ acres of his land (which, in its history of more than 100 years, had been home to at least 4 generations of his family) for a fraction of its value to a real estate company owned by the same lawyer. The lawyer’s real estate company then resold it to developers for a tidy profit. (Apparently this is legal, although the ethics of it are questionable; but only those involved know their true intentions.) The same lawyer made the new will, leaving virtually everything to the second wife, with a small percentage to be divided among all the children (her children included). His children were kept in the dark until the deal was made and it was too late.
But, no one wanted to cause ”Mr. Brady” unnecessary stress, plus everyone was happy he would have enough money to pay for his medical bills and the home health care he would later require. So, even though their ancestral land was gone, no one made much fuss.
Years later, he passed away. At his funeral, his widow proudly told people how many children they had, including his children.
A few days after the funeral, she was discussing the will with one of his sons. The son asked her if she was including everyone in her own will, since most of the estate she had just inherited had come from the sale of family land (a 7-digit total). She allegedly replied, “Absolutely not, you’re not my children and I never liked any of you.” When asked if she was serious, she confirmed.
Naturally, his family does not believe this is how he intended it, since the original will divided the land evenly amongst them, and since by the time he signed the new will, his health had deteriorated such that he had to sign with an “X”.
(Seriously, this is how grudges which last for generations are born. If I recall correctly, that whole conflict in the Middle East began over this very sort of thing….)
Unfortunately, as many attorneys can attest, this type of scenario has become all too common. But this isn’t about judgment. As previously stated, only those involved know their true intentions (oh, and God probably knows too, so there is no need to judge anyone here since that will come later). This is about ways the next person could possibly avoid similar circumstances, and perhaps at least one reader will find this advice useful.
If you intend for the new spouse to inherit your entire estate and entirely cut out all of your biological heirs, you should probably discuss it with your entire family. This way, they can at least be reassured that this was your intention, and your new spouse didn’t bamboozle you or them.
If you’d rather make certain your own children aren’t left in the cold, read on.
A lot of people frown at the idea of a prenuptial agreement, but if there are assets, it is always a good idea to protect them, especially if there are children from a previous relationship. Some might argue that a “prenup” is a plan to fail. However, someone who isn’t planning to leave and take all your stuff will probably not mind saying so in writing. Which brings me to another point…
Get your own attorney, even if it is only to have a second opinion. If you need a referral, do not accept a referral from your spouse’s (or potential spouse’s) attorney; they may be golfing buddies. I’m not suggesting they might conspire, but it isn’t a bad idea to take precautions to keep everyone honest.
A trust fund may be a good idea, too, if there are children from a previous relationship. This way, payments can be made to the surviving spouse, so he or she will live comfortably ever after, then after his or her death, the remainder of the fund goes into the custody of remaining heirs.
And, it’s ok to be a little pushy. Don’t let anyone get between you and the rest of your family, even if it seems like the most peaceful solution at the time… unless your family is a cult. That’s different. But that is an entry for another day.