An Estate Tale


“The Widow and the Advisor”



I often listen to talk radio.  Every once and a while I tune in to the Christian Broadcasting channel to listen to the Christian financial advisors since I have a number of Christian clients.  The advice they give is usually sound, and I enjoy getting a glimpse of advice that at times runs contrary to the advice that I dispense.  It has a unique slant and it makes me think, so I like to listen to their solutions.

In one particular situation, a wealthy widow called into the show and said that she was contemplating marriage to a widower she had met and fallen in love with.  She explained that she had been married for almost 40 years, that her husband had died several years ago and that she had three grown children and eight grandchildren.  The Christian advisor asked her about her personal finances as well as those of her future husband.  Although the future husband had a tidy pension from his years of employment, he had very little money.  He also had two grown children and three grandchildren.  Now came what I consider crazy advice.  I heard the widow ask the advisor if they should co-mingle their assets after they married.  What I heard was very different from what I recommend.

The Christian advisor rattled off a number of biblical passages, and the conclusion was that she should co-mingle her assets with her future husband.  She should re-register all her assets as joint property.  I then heard her ask what would happen to those assets if she were to predecease her future husband.  The widow wasn’t very happy with the answer.  The Christian advisor explained that the assets, upon her death, would transfer to her new husband.  I was stunned by the advice.  I wanted to jump inside the radio and scream.  In Carlos-land, this advice borders on malpractice.  He was, by virtue of his biblical interpretation, in effect eliminating the widow’s three children from the assets that their father and mother had jointly accumulated during their lifetime.  If the widow died before her future husband, the future husband’s children would reap the benefits of the widow’s assets and not her own children.  Like the widow, I thought this was terrible advice and decided that I would have to write about this.

So I contacted my Christian clients and asked them what their thoughts were on the scenario with the widow and the advice she received.  They were universal in their desire to solve their problem and still practice their religion.  One had even heard the same show and said she was going to call me about it since she wanted to “find a way to follow her beliefs, but that no way did she want someone other than her children reaping the benefits of a lifetime of their parents’ work.”  After some further discussion, I explained the solution that would satisfy all concerned.  Any diligent planning practice recommends a similar solution.  It isn’t a mystery.  The solution is simple.  You and your spouse go to an estate-planning attorney and explain your goal in plain language.  You say something like the following, “We want to make sure that if one of us goes before the other, that the surviving spouse maintains control of the assets, but if they remarry, we want to make sure the new spouse never gains control of those assets.”  The attorney then works their magic and, after a few meetings, you have some documents in place that solve your problem.  The specifics of the documents aren’t important.  What is important is to ask the question, “What happens to my money when I die and when my spouse dies?”

There are two main points I want to make before I end this tale.  This tale is not a knock on Christians or Christian advisors.  The point is that estate planning is a complicated area that requires expertise that is beyond the realm of most advisors.  I recommend that my clients utilize the services of an attorney that specializes in estates and trusts exclusively when making complex decisions about who gets what and when.  A good advisor can make sure you ask some insightful questions.  In many cases I attend one or two of the estate planning sessions, but estate planning is a level of expertise reserved for estate planning attorneys.  They are worth their weight in gold, and financial advisors are amateurs in this area.  The second point I want to make is that although this tale is not a knock on Christians or Christian advisors, it is a knock on working with affinity advisors just because you share an affinity.  An affinity advisor is an advisor who because of something other than their financial expertise immediately receives a level of trust that may cause you to skimp on doing your homework.  I’m not saying to avoid these affinity advisors especially if they meet the necessary criteria.  I am saying to do your due diligence.

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