Originally published in the News Star and the Shreveport Times on Sunday, August 14, 2016.
Question: My plan is to leave everything to my wife after I’m gone and she’s doing the same with me. Then when the second one of us is gone, the kids will get everything more or less equally. That’s what our wills say. We are both in second marriages and both of us have our own set of children. But they are all adults, on their own and doing fine. Everyone gets along fine. Isn’t this simple approach the best?
Answer: Your plan strikes me as loving, well-prioritized, simple…and potentially disastrous.
I’ve got no issues with what you intend to do, nor with the intentions of everyone involved. But good intentions have a way of diminishing over time and under stress.
Your children are grown. You gave them a home and an upbringing and that’s now bearing the fruit of stability and independence in their own lives as they start their own families. You want to be sure your wife is taken care of if you pass before she does.
But your good-hearted intentions are no guarantee that they will be followed. Consider just a few things that could prevent your plans from becoming reality.
Lawsuit. I’ve had more than one widow in my office whose husband died as a result of an accident. In one case I recall, the fault of the accident was clearly the husband’s, who had died in the accident. Imagine losing your spouse in an accident, then being sued for his or her causing the accident!
If you simply leave everything of yours to your wife, those assets may be vulnerable in the event of a lawsuit.
Next spouse. People have been known the get married after the death of a spouse. You may swear up and down you won’t, but…see my earlier comments about good intentions. If you or your wife remarries, will they then leave “everything” to that next spouse? Maybe. But isn’t “maybe” a problem? Do you really want someone you’ve never met to inherit what you and your wife have built together?
Future outlaw. Your adult children are all getting along well now. That’s wonderful. But have you ever known of couples that divorce after 20 or 30 years of marriage? I’ve got a whole list of them. After you and your wife are gone, do you want to leave your life’s wealth to your children, who might then have to divide it with a spouse that splits?
Financial rookie. I have no idea if this caution fits your situation or not. But many couples have one spouse who “handles the money” with little or no interest or involvement by the other. I’ve seen plenty of examples both ways – sometimes the wife calls all the financial shots. Other times, that’s the role assumed by the husband.
If your marriage works like that, do you want your wife to find out that her first year of widowhood is also her rookie year as the financial manager of the family wealth?
These are only things to spark your thinking. I am not an attorney and this column does not contain legal advice. You need to talk to an experienced, qualified attorney concerning all of these matters.
An attorney may suggest the use of certain types of trusts, ownership arrangements or management agreements made ahead of time to address the specifics of your situation. You won’t know any of that until you speak with an attorney.
Your good intentions are a wonderful motivator and a great place to start. Just don’t stop there. Make sure there are structures in place to carry out once you are gone what you so nobly intend while you are alive.
Otherwise, your good intentions might die when you do.
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