Imagine a lovely suburban Chicago home, a divorced man sitting at the kitchen table with his three children. “Kids, I have some news,” he says. “You know that Betty and I have been seeing quite a lot of each other, and, well, we’re getting married.” The oldest sits back, registering mild shock. The middle child snaps, “She’s not moving in here. This is our house.” The youngest asks if their mother knows yet, following up with a question about how Betty’s kids feel about it.
It’s a familiar scene in America, right? Does it change at all if the father is 70, and the kids are in their 40s?
Not much, apparently. Kids today are often meeting the news that a parent is remarrying with pointed questions about who will get the house, who will get the retirement funds and so on. At a time when 500,000 couples over the age of 65 get married each year, adult children find themselves urging their parents to enter into prenuptial agreements or to update estate plans, all in an effort to keep the new spouse’s family from having what should be theirs.
As the first generation that has dealt with so many divorces, the children of the 65+ newlyweds have experienced more family fractures than society has dealt with before. Add to that the realities of the recession, and you have adult children interjecting themselves into their parents’ wedding plans more than ever.
Family homes are most often the subject of debate. The issue is who will get the home when the parent dies: the “new” wife who has lived there for years and who took care of the father during his final illness, or the kids who grew up in the house and think of it as their birthright? One legal response is a life trust that allows the wife to stay in the house until she dies, when the house passes to the children.
Anecdotal evidence, of course, weighs in on both sides. The arrangement worked out beautifully, or the wife actually rented an apartment “on the side,” just in case the kids kicked her out of her husband’s house. The headlines are full of stories of things going exactly the way they weren’t supposed to — Dennis Hopper, for example, or Brooke Astor.
Marriage experts suggest careful estate planning and even marriage mediation, in which the parent and adult children work out their concerns about family property with the help of a qualified neutral.
Open discussion, careful planning, and crossed fingers are key ingredients to a happy, late-in-life remarriage.
Resource: The Huffington Post “Adult Kids of Divorce Are Demanding That Their Elderly Parents Stop Acting Like Teenagers And Get Prenups” 11/08/10