I am a married woman, age 69, and my husband is 79. I am his second wife and we have been married for 22 years. He is not in the best of health and requires my care.
He suffers with debilitating arthritic pain and is not able to do anything except his daily living needs, watching TV and directing me to what I need to do. I am now responsible of taking care of everything in and outside of the home.
He no longer drives because of his failing vision, so I am my husband’s caretaker, driver, butler and the whipping post. I took a vow for better or worse, but I am sure wife No. 1 got the better deal.
He long ago promised his grandson, whom he raised, that he would inherit his house. My husband purchased this home four years before we were married and we recently paid the mortgage off. There is no written agreement regarding the house.
I hope I don’t sound like a greedy person. Because of the pandemic, I am acutely aware that you need to be prepared for the future.
When we were first married, my husband convinced me to put his name on my home, and he paid off the balance of $30,000 on it. I agreed to this as long as my name went on all of his assets, including the house in question.
At the time of this arrangement, I was OK with it. After 22 years, I am not so agreeable. The home value has increased significantly since 1995 and I don’t feel the grandson deserves the appreciation of the home should my husband die.
We live in a community-property state. I am his wife and I have the responsibility of caring for him, and feel I should receive what I am entitled to when he dies. His family, including his grandson, seldom come around or call except when something is needed.
I hope I don’t sound like a greedy person. Because of the pandemic, I am acutely aware that you need to be prepared for the future. I am not getting any younger and I want to make sure I have the resources to live my life.
My husband refuses to get a living trust, and I feel that I am not prepared should he die. What do you think I should do? Should I make good on my husband’s wishes for his grandson to inherit this home?
Wife No. 2
Dear No. 2,
If your name is on the deed of this house, as you say, it will automatically go to you if your husband predeceases you. It won’t go through probate. It will then be up to you to decide what you want to do with it. Your husband should not make promises that he does not intend to keep, but that is an ethical dilemma that he — and he alone — must wrestle with. It is not yours to fulfill.
One scenario: “Any asset that is titled to a husband and wife jointly, joint with right of survivorship, or as tenants by the entirety, passes to the wife at the moment of husband’s death,” according to the Spencer Law Firm in Lancaster, Pa. “It does not pass under the will and title vests in the surviving joint owner immediately. The title is determined by the language on the deed.”
Let’s assume you lived in a community-property state and your husband’s home was in his name only, and your real estate had not become a commingled asset during your marriage. If, in that case, he died without a will, in most states you would still keep a share of the community property, a portion separate personal property, and likely the right to use your real estate for life.
Our thoughts and feelings are not always in perfect alignment with our actions. We show up and do the right thing — and, hopefully with time, the rest follows.
But it’s complicated. If you have “tenancy by entirety” or “joint tenancy with right of survivorship” then you would inherit your husband’s half of the home. If, on the other hand, you had “tenancy in common,” then you would be able to bequest your half to someone else, your own children or loved ones.
Given your situation, you could decide to leave this home to your husband’s grandson in your will, or split it between his immediate family and/or talk to this man, and see if he even expects or wants to inherit this home. Perhaps it was convenient for the grandson to see or spend time with his grandfather when they lived together and he was in better health. Again, that’s his life, and the way he chooses to live it.
As this column has shown, family members — even once-close family members — can have a change of heart if there is heavy lifting to be done with their time, labor or emotions. You, of course, can be firm and kind and courteous to your husband and still be 100% clear about the kind of behavior and words you accept and do not accept, even if he doesn’t always make it easy.
Our thoughts and feelings are not always in perfect alignment with our actions. We show up and do the right thing — and, hopefully with time, the rest follows. You will find it easier to live with yourself if you don’t let your own anger, however righteous, get the better of you. There are organizations that help carers. It is thankless, exhausting and relentless. It’s OK to seek help.
Sometimes, the most fulfilling times of our lives happen when we show up and struggle against our own demons and those of others. You may do better tomorrow, or maybe you handled the stress in a more manageable way yesterday, but ultimately you won’t get a second chance to be there for your husband as his health fades. And, with the right support, I suspect you will journey through this.
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Quentin Fottrell is MarketWatch’s Moneyist columnist. You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions at email@example.com. By emailing your questions, you agree to having them published anonymously on MarketWatch.