Preserving Family Wealth for Generations

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Marrying for Love, not Money!

by James N. Voeller, Esq.

Have you ever wondered what might happen to your estate if you died and your spouse remarried?

The following is one of the most tragic stories that I have heard in my 30 years as a lawyer.

Several years ago a couple, Don and Judy, came into my office to discuss their estate planning goals. When I asked them what it was that was motivating them to do their planning, Don sadly shook his head and began telling me the following story:

“Jim, I grew up as the only child of my hard-working parents. My great grandfather immigrated to South Texas from Germany in the 1800’s. Throughout my childhood, and as a young man, I worked alongside of my father on our ranch. I can still hear him saying to me with pride, “Someday this will all be yours, son.”

It was a hard life, and money was tight, but we always had enough. My parents taught me how to work hard and they taught me to always be careful with money.

Life went on just fine through the years until one day, several years ago, my mother got sick and died. Dad stayed on the ranch as long as he could, but eventually he moved into an assisted living facility nearby. While he was at the assisted living facility, my father met a woman, Helen, to whom he grew very attached. Within no time my dad started talking about getting married to Helen.

There wasn’t anything that I could do about it. Dad married Helen and seemed happy enough. About three months later, my father became very ill. He died in his sleep, with Helen by his side.

A few days after the funeral, I found out that while he was at the assisted living facility, my father signed a new will–leaving all of his assets to his new wife, Helen. I immediately hired a lawyer to help me try to unravel this mess.

Jim, I went to the probate court and tried to prove that my father lacked capacity or that he signed his new will under duress – but I lost. Meanwhile, during the litigation, Helen had a heart attack and died. Helen’s will left everything to her two daughters. Helen’s daughters now own the ranch that had been in my family for over 150 years. Oh, and by the way,” Don Said, “did I mention that the ranch was located on one of the four corners of a major intersection on Loop 1604? When I lost the ranch, it had already become a multi-million dollar commercial property!

We’re here today, because we don’t want anything like this nightmare to happen to our kids when we die.”

After expressing my sympathy to Don for his tragedy, I explained to Judy and him that most of my clients have arranged their affairs like my wife and I have arranged ours. I explained that when I die, my half of our community property will be left in trust for my wife. She will be the trustee and the beneficiary of the trust. She gets to use the income that the trust produces and if she needs the principal, she can use that too. But if my wife chooses to remarry she will lose her interest in the trust unless she gets a prenuptial agreement with her new spouse. The new spouse has to agree that he will never make a claim against the trust assets that I leave for her – or against her assets. I don’t mind if she gets remarried, I just want to make sure that her new spouse is marrying for love–and not money!

When I explained this option to Don and Judy, they looked at each other, then looked at me, and exclaimed together, “That’s what we want to do!” They had come into my office discouraged at what had happened to them, but they left with a new confidence that their children would never have to experience the type of tragedy they had gone through.

If you would like to learn more about protecting your spouse and children through thoughtful estate planning, call us at (210) 651-3851 for a complimentary initial consultation.

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