‘Divorce, remarriage, death: How to make sure your children get their inheritance’

Nov 13, 2021
It's important you update your will if your spouse or anyone named in it dies, or if you remarry. Source: Getty Images

Many Baby Boomers may still be with our partners of 40, 50 or more years. But once the children have left home, some couples decide to separate. There are many reasons why couples want to go it alone. You may no longer have anything in common or one or both of you have retired and discovered you have different interests and friends.

Other Baby Boomers find themselves as a widow or widower. It could have happened unexpectedly when your partner suffered a heart attack or you may have been nursing your partner for many years and are now able to move on with your life.

If all of your friends are coupled up, you might find yourself the ‘odd one out’ in group settings. You have family and friends around you but you are lonely. You want to be part of a couple again.

Let’s say you are a man aged 72 years; your wife of 50 years has suddenly died. You had loved your wife dearly, but you hadn’t had sex together for at least six years. You feel young and believe you can live to be a 100 … let’s say 95 years! You have at least a ‘good’ 20 years left.

Family and friends will react in different ways towards your new relationship. Some of your friends might be congratulatory; “Good on you. Enjoy life!” But others, particularly your children or close family and friends, may be horrified!

Children may react depending on who your proposed new partner is. Are they independent? Do they have their own home or income? Is the person you’ve chosen older or younger than you (or them)?

Using the example of the man above, his children may be threatened by this new person in his life, particularly if the woman he is seeing has children of her own. If the woman is aged anywhere between 50 and 65 years, this might raise further alarm bells from within the man’s circle. The law of averages is that a woman usually outlives a man.

One friend, Peter*, lost his wife, Magda* of 47 years. Peter had loved and supported Magda through her seven years of cancer. When Magda died Peter was extremely lonely. He now had time on his hands, he was no longer Magda’s carer, he had no one to care for and he wasn’t needed to be there for anyone else. Sure, he had family and friends to support him, but eventually family and friends returned to their lives.

Peter met Elizabeth online. Elizabeth was divorced and 16 years younger than Peter. Within weeks Peter and Elizabeth became a couple. Peter was besotted! Life and sex was great!

Peter and his late wife Magda had accumulated many assets, including a rental property, shares and superannuation. This was mainly due to Magda’s business acumen, as Peter was always the spender. Magda trusted Peter to do the ‘right thing’ by ensuring their shared assets were eventually left to their daughters.

Elizabeth talked Peter into buying a new home, something to call ‘theirs’. Elizabeth sold her unit and with Peter’s money they bought their dream home. Peter’s daughters tried to include Elizabeth in family gatherings, but when they rang Peter to invite him to family events he always made excuses to hang up. Peter was withdrawing.

Peter had always been close to his two daughters and his grandchildren, but sadly this was slowly eroded as Elizabeth had four children and many grandchildren of her own. Elizabeth’s family became Peter’s family, but Peter’s did not become Elizabeth’s.

Peter has his own health issues and Elizabeth, being 16 years his junior, will likely outlive him. Should Peter die first it could mean all of his and Magda’s assets are left to Elizabeth and eventually her family.

Over the past 15 years I have witnessed friends divorcing or losing a long-term partner.

I am a mother of three children and grandmother of seven and I know that if I die and my husband of 52 years either marries or lives with another woman, all my assets could end up with the ‘new’ woman. Then, when my husband dies, all our shared assets will go to her then to her children. Is that fair?

Of course my husband says there would never be another woman in his life, naturally I don’t believe him! He likes being married and having someone around, someone to share his bed, clean his toilet! We have made a pact, he wants to die first, and I am happy for that to happen … But will it?

Other male friends I know whose wives have died have quite honestly said their new partners will ‘do the right thing’ by leaving his assets to his children. Experience has shown me that just doesn’t happen, unless you make strong provisions in your will.

To ensure that your assets get passed on to your children, especially if you or your spouse takes a new partner, it’s important to figure out how to legally ensure that when you die, your assets end up where you want them to. The older you are, the more likely things such as retirement savings, life insurance policies, real estate and the like will be major factors. Don’t even get me started on the family heirlooms or other belongings you or your spouse desire to end up with your children.

A good estate plan helps make sure your wishes are carried out when you die and they can also help if you’re not able to make your own decisions. It’s important to update your will as your situation changes, which includes when you lose a spouse — or someone who is named in your will — through death, or your divorce.

*Not their real names.

Have you divorced or entered into a new relationship after the death of a spouse? Is your will up to date?

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