We’ve been married for five years — happily, or so I thought.
We have shared all our assets prior to our marriage, including our current accounts and bank accounts, etc. I continued to work for five years after we married, and I just retired at 65. My husband is 71 and was retired before I met him, his only income being Social Security benefits. As an only child, he recently inherited his parents’ home and a large sum of money.
To my surprise, he has not added my name to the house or the bank accounts that belonged to his parents. We have no wills at this point, and we live in California. I understand that an inheritance is not community property unless you make it so. If the shoe were on the other foot, I would have added his name to the deed. I’m hurt and apprehensive about where I stand.
Should I tell him how I feel? Can you give me some advice?
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Here’s the good news: You stand exactly where you stood the moment before your husband received word of his inheritance. Your place in this relationship has not changed. I do have a question for you: If you were married 35 years, would you still be hurt that he did not add you to the deed? I wonder if your apprehension is related to a feeling of financial and emotional insecurity within the relationship that would, perhaps, not have existed if you were married longer.
After all, how well do we really know someone? After 35 years, we may have a pretty good handle on that. After five years, there is still so much we don’t know about other people, like how they handle stressful situations like job loss, death and serious illness, and unexpected surprises like a sudden promotion at work, a surge in their stock portfolio or a windfall. I’ve been on this planet for 40-something years and, honestly, I’m still getting to know myself. It’s a process.
You say that if the shoe were on the other foot, you would have added him to the deed. How soon would you add him? Within 24 hours, one week, six months or a year? Or would life get in the way and — given that you consider that this property belongs to both of you, anyway — perhaps you wouldn’t get around to doing it? I ask because we never really know what any of us would do in any situation until it actually happens. We are comforted by the certainty of our own theoretical actions.
It’s worth looking at this scenario from your husband’s perspective, too. If you inherited this estate, would he have expected you to add his name by now, or even at all? If he told you that he was hurt that you had not added him, would you say, “I was just about to do it!” And would you quietly think, “Why does he care so much? Is he not as happy as I thought? Does he think I’m hedging my bets in the event we divorce? Does he want to make sure he inherits half in case we divorce?”
Expectations that a person should do something we believe to be the correct action often leads to hurt feelings. But there’s no right or wrong decision here. Inheritance is not community property because the court regards it as fair and equitable for a married spouse not to inherit half of the home should they divorce. That seems fair to me. Your husband has maintained that status quo. He has taken no action. Indeed, he could be hurt or offended if you asked him to put your name on the deed.
There are caveats: If you refinanced the home or undertook a major renovation using joint assets, that would likely convert it from separate to community property. But that would obviously be a disingenuous (at best) way of dealing with this situation. I’m not for a moment suggesting you would do such a thing, but I have no doubt that people have made this mistake and were taken by surprise that the home was no longer considered separate property when they divorced.
I suggest you continue living your life — and do nothing. If your husband does contemplate an action that would convert this home into community property, make him aware of the implications of his decision. Perhaps say, “Are you aware that this would commingle your family home with our marital assets? I would hate for it to happen, and I don’t think it ever would, but what if something went wrong in our marriage and we decided to divorce?” It may be unlikely, but it’s not impossible.
Most people retire at 65 or older. You continued working after you met, I assume, to maximize your retirement benefits and because getting married is not a reason to give up work and/or retire early. Be happy for your husband’s inheritance. Help him celebrate. There are no perfect marriages. They do not exist, because perfect people don’t exist. You felt a wobble and your expectations were not met on this occasion. That’s OK. Give your husband and yourself a break. We’re all human.
Participate in his joy. Ask him about his memories of growing up in the house. Make this inheritance about him rather than about you.
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