Handling the will & kids in a second marriage

betty ming liu Money, Relationships 12 Comments

A friend wants me to post her heartbreaking tale — in hopes that she can save others from the same fate. As she wept the other day, I listened with horrified fascination to a situation that never, ever crossed my mind before. Oh, the price of love…

Once upon a time, there was a second wife. She came into the marriage as a single woman with no kids. But the man of her dreams had young ones. The couple lived happily for many, many years. Along the way, she worked hard to embrace the stepchildren and make them part of her life. Then he got sick and recently died.

Now comes the ugly.

Since she and her honey were smart business people, they had wills. Like a lot of couples, they were reciprocal wills. This means that whoever died first leaves everything to the surviving spouse. Nothing strange here except — he never told his children about the terms of the will or what he was worth.

So when he died, they were shocked to learn that they got nothing. They also think their daddy left a small fortune, which, my friend says, is far, far, far from the truth.

Many angry words have led to estrangement.

My poor friend. Death took away her husband, the stepchildren and friends who sided with the kids. She grieves for her lost life.

Moving forward, the dead husband left her enough to generate a cash flow of maybe $30,000 to $50,000 a year, depending on she invests it. If there was more money, she says that she would gladly give some of it to his kids. But as an older woman who hasn’t worked for some time, her employment prospects are tough.

Meanwhile, she has compared notes with other widowed second wives who have stepchildren. To her surprise, she learned that each of their husbands had had “The Talk” with their sons and daughters. The children all had a decent sense of Dad’s financial worth and understood that he was leaving everything to Her.


Having met my friend’s husband, I am aghast. What responsible man would do this to his woman?! He was afraid to die. He was too proud to admit he wasn’t rich. Thankfully, my friend is a strong, smart woman. She will re-invent herself, I’m sure of it.

Her tragedy has made me realize how much the courage it takes to really love…

Of course, I’m pretty sure that her husband truly loved her. But maybe he just didn’t know enough about love. Is that too judgmental of me?

Don’t know about you, but re-examining my will is near the top of my to-do list.


Comments 12

  1. I have seen all kind of sadness. I do Estate Planning seminar for Japanese speaking people and consultation. I talk about the good planning on the radio show. They over look their plan. You will know if the person truly loved the person when they pass away. Really.

  2. Betty: you raise a very important issue here and it is one so many people seem afraid to even talk about – as if even mentioning their wills will somehow magically bring about early demise. As a product of the minor WASP gentry, wills and inheritance were the stuff of regular dinner table conversation when I was growing up – who should inherit great grandmother’s china and so on – so I never had that inhibition. however I have seen so much damage and heartache in other people’s lives because they just never “got around” to having a proper will drawn up and making sure the interested parties were all as down with the program as possible. My wonderful sons and I discuss it freely. Which of them actually wants certain items is important to know. One may deeply treasure that huge, antique sideboard, for example, but assuming someone else is willing to make house room for it is very possibly a big mistake. Maybe that person actually always loved grandmother’s best vase instead – but if you go and leave the vase to someone else and the sideboard to the vase lover, all you’ve done is create unhappiness and given it the stamp of your last and final will, which people are often reluctant to take issue with. Talk about it – reach amicable agreements and then get it down on paper in legal form. I could tell tales by the yard of dreadful situations that arose simply because people failed to take care of the inevitable, final business – especially in the gay community where property rights are still problematic – very much so in some parts of the country. Also, make sure there is more than one notarized copy and at least one copy is in the hands of a trustworthy person such as one’s lawyer. I saw a really spectacular mess arise when a person’s will mysteriously vanished before the funeral, coincidentally right after her second husband got to the safe deposit box first. Hmmmm….now, I’m not accusing but I’m just saying….hmmmm. Anyway, it took contending teams of lawyers about 4 years to settle her estate as a result and of course, they got most of it

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  4. Insurance products are great for blended families. We took out a separate policy on my husband that would go directly to my stepdaughter in the event of his death. There my still be bad feelings as the younger kids we have together as a couple would reap a greater benefit when I die. However, this was the best way we could think of to be fair and definitely better than leaving her nothing.
    A tough situation for your friend…. Wishing her peace.

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    Toby, interesting! Your sons are all young men now, right? I’m wondering if you handled things different when they were younger. Kids don’t always want to hear about their parents’ mortality.

    Ann, you’re presenting yet another idea that I never thought of. Very generous of you to share your personal experiences. I’ve gotta do some serious reflection on all this stuff. Thanks to you both!

  6. Betty,
    I have several things to comment on. The first is equating love and money. Let’s see where should I start. Maybe with my day. Today and for the next eight weeks I am attending a financial planning course at the Veterans Administration. We are doing this instead of the normal therapy for PTSD. This course is taught by couple who are both CPA’s.Financial affairs are one of the biggest cause of conflict in marriage. It is also a difficult to talk about. Another thing that is difficult is making “End of life decisions” My first will and hard look at these issues where when I joined the U. S. Navy. There are many types of wills and trusts. In my case my will is actually a “Living will” which sets up a trust. I would recommend a trust over other options. If you are in the military or a Vet, this can be done my a Officer form the Judge Advocate General for free. Another end of life decision is whether you want then to try to keep you alive, or a DNR clause (Do not necessitate) This is another area where you are saving your loved ones from having to make a very hard decision. We went through that with my Grandfather on my mother’s side. My uncle didn’t want to let him go even though he would not have regained consciousness.
    There are a lot of families that end up squabbling and having hurt feelings over provisions. In some cases it is good NOT to let them know so the deceased (and others) can have some peace BEFORE they die!
    My dad’s father had a trust with my dad as the executor. However they discovered that the trust had NEVER BEEN FUNDED! so we had to move the funds to the account before he died. He had time to have an interview with each child and grandchild, except for my son. Grand Pa Winn’s death was different than most I think. When he got cancer the second time I was with him/ The nurse came out, a bit alarmed, “I told he he had cancer and he was happy”, she said. I explained to her, he is 97 years old, he wants to die as he said “all my friends are dead”
    It is so sad when people allow material things to obscure one of the most sacred events in life. In my own religion, we have the belief that the family unit is something that can continue beyond the grave. I wonder a little about your friend and the difference in perceptions of his net worth. I think there is a story there. This may have been a man who could have been generous to a flaw.
    I have seen so real surprises at funerals. When my uncle died I met a woman told me “you could not stop me from coming, he helped me pass my High School Math classes”. My uncle was a severally disabled veteran and didn’t have any friends that I knew of.
    My mom’s dad died when I was at sea. I have some of his mechanic tools I inherited but I inherited something much better than that. Grand pa was a mechanic during his life. He had his own business that succeeded and failed. His success came from being honest with his customers. His failure was doing things for credit because he want to help people out.However, his employer at the Cadillac dealership always took him back and even gave him raises so he would stay.
    Three are some things you can’t put a price on. These are paradigms by which we live our lives. your friend isn’t penniless. There are a lot of people who can live on the amount of money she has. There is also another factor that can’t be counted. If her deceased husband was a generous man in life there is undoubtedly a group of people who just waiting to pay him back. And just like in my uncles case “just try and stop me from coming” If this happens I hope she is humble enough to realize this is her love’s inheritance too.

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    Brian, the family situations that you mention show just how complex this stuff is. Thanks for sharing so much of what you’re going through. I hope the financial course is helpful. And you’re right — my friend’s husband was a great guy who helped a lot of people. I just wish he had taken the time to talk to his kids.

  8. I remember when my grandmother died I was told that I was not to worry about things that I wish Had been said or wished could have turned out better. We were told not to dwell on anything like this because they don’t really matter.
    I think it goes back to our desire to control. Only God has control of these things.
    I hope your friends kids are able to get past this.I have seen some families get into squabbles after someone dies over who got what. It is truly sad to see people get wrapped up in material things and forget what is really important. What is really important is to work together.

  9. Thanks for sharing, Betty!

    Two things I might say from experience:

    1. If a person truly is rich, it could be useful to set up a irrevocable trust prior to remarriage. I’ve known people who have written their older children completely out of their will because a second spouse convinces them to abandon their old family. It’s sad, but it happens. The irrevocable trust ensures that the old family can’t be written out without the consent of the beneficiaries.

    There are also other instruments that can ensure certain percentages of assets go to older children. Estate lawyers would know much more than I do about this.

    That said…

    2. I don’t know why your friend’s children believe that they are owed any portion of their father’s estate while your friend is still living. It’s not uncommon for a spouse to leave everything to his/her significant other.

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      Solid advice, Big Wowo! The trust is a good idea. I’ve heard of that before. As for getting some of Dad’s inheritance, I think that in a first marriage with kids, the kids wouldn’t blink if Mom was widowed and got everything. But apparently, in multiple marriages with stepchildren, there are all sorts of issues to consider. So nice to hear from you. Thanks for stopping by!

  10. Thanks, Betty! Good point about the step-family thing. I can see how stepchildren could already have some issues with stepmothers, and leaving everything to the stepmom could further complicate issues. In this case, of course, your friend’s husband wasn’t super-rich, so it makes sense to leave everything to his surviving spouse. But as you said, he should’ve had The Talk with his kids.

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