The Moneyist: My husband’s two children would toss me out of the house if he were to die before me — what can I do?
My husband and I have been married for a year and a half. He owns property and a home, which is paid for. He has never added me to any of it. He also has two children who I’m sure would toss me out and sell everything if he were to pass away before me.
When I have mentioned this, he just ignores me or acts as if it’s not important. He also has a life-insurance policy for which his daughter is the beneficiary, and he has never changed that either.
I have worked very hard trying to fix up the home because it was in bad shape. Now I am beginning to feel that I no longer want to keep putting my time and energy into this house, which may never truly be mine. I would appreciate any advice on this. Thank you.
Dear Fed Up,
File this under “Issues to Discuss Before You Are Married.” It appears your husband has chosen Door No. 3 — that is, do nothing. That is a solution for him. It just doesn’t help you. I have two solutions to your dilemma, although there are more. Let’s go with the most obvious options for now.
Solution No. 1: He writes a will and leaves you his house. He may not be willing to do that. Your husband has two children, and he likely believes it’s fairer for them to inherit the home he paid for. We are, of course, speculating. He hasn’t told you what he wants, so we are merely filling in the gaps.
If your husband dies without a will, the house will go through probate and be subject to the law in your state. “Many states have rules that would provide only a portion of the estate to the surviving spouse,” according to the Wilson Law Group, which has offices in Evansville and Madison, Wis.
“If this is a second marriage, children from the prior marriage may be entitled to more of the estate. If this is indeed the case, the surviving spouse may be forced to leave the home, even if she had contributed to home expenses during the course of the marriage,” the group added.
Solution No. 2: Your husband could create a “life estate” in which you live in the home until you die and then it passes to his two children. That is, you have the right to live there for the rest of your life. You will be responsible for upkeep, property taxes and maintenance costs as if you were the owner.
There are drawbacks to this: If one of your husband’s children racks up unsustainable debt, a creditor could put a lien on the house and claim that is part of his/her estate. You would also need to discuss with your husband what happens to the house in the event that his children die before you do.
In a similar vein, your husband could put this home in a trust, so you can live there for the remainder of your life. For second marriages, there are many kinds of trusts to provide financial support for you and your husband and, if he wished, his children. Read more about that here.
It’s telling, perhaps, that you call your home “the house” rather than “our house.” I assume that by refusing to discuss the issue, he has already given it some thought, and — I am again replacing his silence with my own narrative here — concluded that you would not like what he has to say.
Talk to him over dinner in a restaurant so he can’t escape. If he does flee to the restroom, do not waver from your position when he gets back. It’s tough to have a marriage where there is silence, evasion, a wall instead of open communication and, I’m sorry to say, a worrying lack of respect.
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