‘I feel slighted’: My husband and I are in our 70s. We married 3 years ago. He’s leaving his $1.8 million home to a 10-year-old relative. Is that normal?

Dear Quentin,

I am 73 and my husband is 76. We married three years ago, and I moved overseas to be with him. We are in excellent health and, statistically, we have another 10 to 15 years of life ahead of us. I have grown children in their 40s and one grandchild in the U.S. from a previous marriage. My European husband has two ex-wives and no children. My income is almost double what he receives from his pension, as his former wives took a considerable share. So I pay two-thirds of our living expenses. That’s OK with me — it allows us to travel more and to have more fun than we would if we lived separately.

What bothers me is that my husband’s heir to his main asset, the home we share — which is worth approximately $1.8 million — is a cousin’s grandson who is now 10 years old. This is on the grounds that this child alone can “carry on the family name.” My own estate is worth a bit more. I don’t need it for income, and it will all go to my children, but I have willed my husband the lifelong use of an apartment I own, which he can rent out for extra income if I die first. He will also get half my U.S. Social Security. I am not eligible for a widow’s pension should he die first.  

If I were widowed, I would move back to the U.S. to be closer to my children. I probably won’t need more money, and my kids seem well enough provided for. But I feel slighted by being bypassed, especially because I changed my life around so we could be together and am making good provisions for my spouse. A young man, who may be in his early to mid-20s when my husband dies, doesn’t really need a fortune either. Should I just accept the situation as reasonable for a late marriage, or would an impartial observer suggest an alternative? It’s hard to figure out what is “normal.”

Wife of Three Years

“Either you both get to use each other’s properties for the duration of your life should one partner predecease the other, or you both make other plans for those properties upon your respective deaths.”

MarketWatch illustration

Dear Wife,

You have made a courageous and adventurous decision to move overseas to be with the man you love. By leaving your adult children and your old life behind, you have made the bigger sacrifice to be with your husband, and I hope that you are happy with your move and that you enjoy at least 15 years together in good health. The fact that your husband pays only one-third of your joint expenses is obviously helpful for him, but if it allows you the lifestyle you both want, that’s a good thing. Companionship in your 70s — or at any age — is priceless. 

There are financial advantages to getting married later in life: You get to split costs and, if one person has employer-based health insurance, it can save money for the partner without such insurance. Maintaining one home is obviously far less costly than maintaining two separate homes. In many U.S. states, a couple filing a joint tax return can deduct double the amount that single filers can. But there are downsides, as you have discovered: Those include the costs of medical and long-term care if one partner falls into ill health, as well as disputes over inheritance.

Accept his inheritance plans

If you do pass away before your husband, he will have saved significantly more money than if he had stayed single and paid all of those expenses himself. Plus, he will get your Social Security benefit. That’s the luck of the draw, and it does not hurt you during your lifetime. It’s nice that someone will get it — it may as well be him. I do have one minor suggestion: Either you both get to use each other’s properties for the duration of your life should one partner die before the other, or you both make other plans for those properties upon your respective deaths. 

There is no “normal” resolution for the situation you describe. Given that you met late in life, you should accept his plans to leave his apartment to his cousin’s 10-year-old grandson, and he should accept your plans to leave your estate to your own children. He clearly wants his home to stay in his family, even if it’s going to a distant relative. Ideally, you should split your expenses 50/50, but I presume you have also made money by renting your apartment. Given that you both spent a lifetime accumulating your wealth, the fairest way to approach this is to treat each other equally in death. 

More from Quentin Fottrell:

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My husband bought our house with an inheritance. I signed a quitclaim. He said I could live there after he dies, but changed his mind. What now?

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