Bill and Jenny had managed to accumulate about half a million dollars in assets over their life time together and were living comfortably on income from Social Security and Bill’s pension. They only used income from their assets for an occasional cruise, so they expected to see continued growth.
The attorney spent some time reviewing the provisions of their existing plan, and posed several questions about their goals, their needs, and their kids and grandkids. There hadn’t been too many changes in their lives since the original plan was developed, so most of their goals and relationships remained the same.
Finally, the attorney wanted to know whether Bill and Jenny were concerned about their spouse remarrying if one of them were to die.
Both responded with a laugh, and said they were not the least bit concerned. Both Bill and Jenny were confident that even if one of them did remarry, the survivor would never do anything to hurt the children. They were certain that the surviving spouse would make sure that all of the assets passed to the children and would not go to a new spouse.
The attorney tried to help them understand that while they currently did not have these concerns, in his experience, the emotional trauma one goes through with the loss of a loved one can trigger reactions and behavior that might now seem unthinkable. He encouraged them to consider implementing safeguards into the plan so that a new spouse could not take away benefits from the children.
The attorney jokingly spoke about this as the Biff and Bambi syndrome. He explained that he wanted to help them ensure the money did not end up with Biff the pool boy or Bambi the masseuse. Again, they laughed and assured him this was not a concern of theirs, and so the attorney did not include these protective provisions in their planning.
About a year later, Jenny was diagnosed with a serious cancer and died shortly thereafter. Bill came into the office distraught, and the attorney assisted him with conveying all of the couple’s assets to his name. About six months later, Bill returned giddy and happy with a new woman 30 years his junior. He instructed the attorney to change his estate plan to ensure that if anything happened to him, his new friend “would be provided for” and that only after his new friend’s death, would assets pass to his children.
The attorney reminded Bill of the goals and objectives he had set with Jenny before she died. He pointed out that since Bill’s new friend was in the same age range as Bill’s children, the children might not outlive her – and would therefore get nothing. Bill replied not to be concerned as he was very confident about what he was doing. The attorney told Bill that he could not, in good conscience, make the changes he wanted and advised him to seek other counsel. Bill was disappointed but found another lawyer to help him accomplish his objectives.
Many of us have a story of someone close to us, or a family friend, who lost their spouse while they were in their early retirement years. We’ve also heard the story of what happens when loneliness sets in, and they become a target. Whether or not there is an ulterior motive, the new partner can change the perspective of the surviving spouse.
Of course, situations like this do not have to happen. With proper planning, the surviving spouse can get all the benefits of the estate without the risk of losing it to a subsequent spouse, and the new spouse can be cared for without jeopardizing the inheritance to the children and grandchildren.