Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Hi, Carolyn: My mom is getting remarried soon (she’s divorced from my dad, future stepdad is a widower). We all really like Stepdad and are happy for them.
My brother recently asked Mom offhandedly if they were doing a prenup, and she surprised him by saying they were and that it would keep their finances totally separate, including any inheritance.
My brother is concerned that this puts him and me on the hook to care for Mom if anything happens to Stepdad down the road, and he wants us to have a serious talk with her about the implications of this. Mom and Stepdad both work and have some retirement savings (they’re in their early 60s), although Stepdad is definitely wealthier than Mom.
I understand Stepdad wanting to leave everything to his kids, but also understand Brother’s concern. I guess I’m torn because Brother is SUPER worked up about this and thinks Mom is getting screwed, whereas I feel pretty ambivalent about the whole thing.
Am I missing something here? Is this prenup a red flag? Or is Brother overreacting? How should I approach both of them?
As the one who is calmer about it, you are arguably in a better position to talk to your mom — just to make sure she won’t be out in the street if he predeceases her. She was direct about the prenup, so it sounds as if you can just ask.
That is the main concern I would have, that she would lose any home they share because it’s supported by his money. It might not seem like a big deal now, but as she ages, being moved — especially while grieving — could be traumatic for her.
As for putting “him and me on the hook,” I’m curious: Who was going to be “on the hook” for your mother’s care before she met your soon-to-be stepdad? Besides the issue of any shared home, doesn’t the prenup put you right back where you would have been all along?
It sounds as if your brother was hoping, even expecting, to be off the hook now that your mother has found a well-to-do partner, and if that’s the case he was counting money that was never his to begin with.
You can explain this to him, of course — “We were always ‘on the hook,’ (brother’s name), because she’s our mom. The marriage and prenup aren’t changing that because they shouldn’t.”
This still leaves room for two difficult outcomes: (1) that your mom hasn’t made provisions to help you two with her care; and (2) that even if your mother has planned carefully, your brother is too worked up to take your or your mom’s word for that.
In case of the former, you can ask your mom if she’s comfortable with your making some inquiries about this with some estate planners, to see if there’s a way to manage her money — including tweaks to the prenup — to protect her without having significant impact on the inheritance plans for both of their children.
In the case of the latter, you can only do the legwork you deem appropriate. His emotions are his mess to clean up.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.