My husband and I are around 80. We have had a good marriage for more than 50 years and have six healthy, well-educated children. We have contributed equally to our assets and have half in my name, half in his. Our estate (worth about $3 million) is in revocable living trusts that are mirror images of each other. In mine, my husband is the successor trustee, and our children are beneficiaries. He thus has no restrictions on how he uses the principal. How can I be sure that our children will inherit our estate if he should remarry? I think he may, which is O.K. with me as long as his new wife signs a prenuptial agreement. But what if she doesn't? He says whoever is widowed should resolve this. "Life is for the living," he says. But I prefer to make my wishes known now. --Annie, Denver
Wanting your children to have what you have built up in your lifetime is a natural and healthy impulse. Posterity looms large for people in later life, and they want to leave their mark. When that wish turns into a need to control what your family does after you are gone, however, it's far less healthy for everybody. Only you can look inside yourself and figure out which motive is driving you. That said, you should be comforted by knowing that in Colorado, as in most states--according to Mark D. Masters, past chairman of the Colorado Estates and Trusts section of the American Bar Association--no new wife can inherit your estate as long as it remains in your trust, prenup or no. It's puzzling that your husband doesn't just reassure you that the matter is already resolved. Perhaps it is, for him, but you need additional confirmation. Or he may be unclear about the matter himself.
A wife with serious cause to mistrust her spouse--which you clearly do not have--could take steps to prevent the cad from illegally raiding her trust to buy a lavender Porsche for his young floozy. The wife could ask her husband to redraft their trusts so that a bank or one of their children would have to sign off on withdrawals of principal. If he refused, she could hire her own lawyer, revoke her trust and leave everything outright to her kids. In marriages like yours, estate lawyers say, such arrangements are rarely necessary. They are cumbersome, cost more and can incite strife in a grieving family. Most of all, in a case like yours, it would make trouble where there is none in order to fix something that's not broken. --By Francine Russo
To ask Francine a question, please e-mail her at askfrancinetime@ aol.com