by Tina Seymour Demoran, Esquire
How I would respond to the question:
“My husband is splitting his estate between me and his children of a former marriage: Should I leave him?”
I kid you not. I just read an article online that started with this question. It piqued my interest, and of course, I had to see how the columnist answered this one.
Basically, the columnist focused on the money part of this question. Did the person marry her husband due to his financial status…or for love? Are you asking him to make a decision between you and his children from the former marriage?
My response to this question is this: it depends.
Is his estate one that you made a substantial contribution in obtaining…a business…a new house that is in his name only…land…a bank account that you deposit money into even though your name is not on it…etc?
How long have you been married? When you say “split,” are you getting half of the estate or a child’s share of his estate?
Those questions really get to the heart of the problem.
Let me explain. Let’s say that you marry someone who had a child with someone when they were in their twenties. They divorced…and the ex moved across the country with the child. The only relationship your spouse has with the child is the occasional card or call. You’ve only met them twice.
You meet and get married. You have no children of your own…nor do you and your spouse have any after marriage. You buy a home, build a business together, and have both separate and joint bank accounts. You both contribute equally (in various ways) to your financial situation. You have been married to this person for over twenty years.
Then, you find out that your spouse plans to leave fifty percent of his estate to this child of the first marriage.
How do you respond?
I would focus on “WHY” he wanted to leave this amount to the child.
A love a parent has for a child is a strong bond. Mere distance and sporadic communication will not always sever it the way they would sever other relationships.
Taking the “Well, I’ll just divorce you and find someone else” approach is drastic and, to me, a bit of an overreaction.
Why not sit your spouse down and work together to ensure that the estate you helped create is secured for both of you? If your spouse wants to leave part of his/her estate to a child from a former marriage, remember this is his/her child. Half of them. Their legacy to the world.
Also, realize that your spouse has the right to leave his/her estate to a child/children. Even Mississippi agrees with this statement: If the spouse dies without a will, then the laws of sanguinity go into play. Namely, any assets that are not jointly owned with a right of survivorship will become the deceased’s estate…and in Mississippi…this means that the children and spouse all get a child’s share of the estate if there is no valid will.
My advice? If you marry someone with children, make sure that any joint purchases or accounts opened after marriage are jointly owned.
Don’t call a divorce lawyer…call an estate attorney.
Talk honestly with your spouse before you assume they are trying to cut you out of what you perceive to be your rightful inheritance.
Take the time to review your assets and make an estate plan that ensures that both spouses are left with enough resources to survive after their spouse’s death, as well as honoring the bond between the parent and the children.