Apr 08, 2011

Worries About My Husband's Inheritance

historic house.jpgDear Liza: My father in-law passed away 3 years ago. Since then, the other siblings have been given their share of their inheritance. My husband will get the family home when Mom goes.  Mom came to us to say that she has made another adjustment to the will to state that... "if son (my husband) predeceases her then the home will go to our daughter and I will have life rights." Couldn't his Mom simply leave the home to her son (my husband) with no strings attached and if he were to predeceases her, would his inheritance still go to him or his estate so that our will will dictate our wishes for the home to go to our daughter when I die? Or would the remaining three siblings get the house and my daughter and I get nothing? Keep in mind the motive is that this is a historic home that everyone wants to stay in the family, yet there is no family money. This is one of those questions that I can't begin to answer specifically because there are so many things that I don't know. Most of the answer lies in the specifics of your husband's mother's estate plan. But here are two pieces of general advice:

1. Your mother-in-law's estate plan is HER estate plan and, until she dies, you really have no control over what she decides to do and how she decides to do it, unless her husband's share of the historic house is in some kind of trust that would prevent her from making an amendment and changing what would happen upon her death. Even if this were the case, that's a limitation that her estate planning attorney would be advising her about. In my state, beneficiary's are required to get notice if they are beneficiaries of an irrevocable trust like this, and have the right to see the trust, but this is not true in all states.

2. As a general matter, if your mother-in-law did leave the house to your husband without any limitations,  and if he were to die before your mother-in-law, what happens next would depend on what the estate plan said. It may pass directly to his surviving children, to you in a life estate of some sort, or to his surviving siblings, again, that's up to your mother-in-law. Honestly, she could leave it to charity if that's what she felt like doing.

It sounds like she's been willing to share her plan with you. Perhaps you need to have a frank family discussion and discuss your concerns with her. Good luck. These are not easy discussions to have, which is one reason that so many people keep their plans confidential until they've died (when they don't have to deal with the howls of outrage, disappointment, or glee that their plan may evoke). But if the family really wants to keep the house, and there's truly no money to maintain it, that's not a problem easily solved by avoidance. Perhaps the use of life insurance or other financial products could help with the issue, or perhaps the family needs to face reality now, rather than later.