The Moneyist: I just discovered that my husband is leaving his personal savings to his mother

Dear Moneyist,

I have repeatedly asked my husband to write a will. He gives me excuses and puts me off. I’m so frustrated that we don’t have a will that I’m almost ready to write my own without him. We have no children, so I’m thinking we should be each other’s beneficiaries and then decide what would happen to our assets if we passed at the same time.

‘Why is he leaving tens of thousands of dollars to his mom? Is she going to be responsible for planning his funeral?’

I found out last night that he has allocated his entire savings account — roughly six months’ worth of living expenses — TO HIS MOTHER. He designated her on the rights of survivorship form when he opened the account. When I confronted him about it, he told me “You’ll be fine. You’re my beneficiary on my life insurance.”

OK, fine. But why is he leaving tens of thousands of dollars to his mom? Is she going to be responsible for planning his funeral? I’m beyond upset, and my question is ultimately this: Is it common to leave a large chunk of money to your parent(s) instead of your spouse?

His mom is financially stable, she has her own business, takes vacations, etc. I always thought the standard practice was to leave everything to your spouse?

Disgruntled Wife

Dear Disgruntled,

Everyone should have a will, especially a married couple. Too many people die without a will and it causes multiple problems and legal battles for those who are left behind. Today is a good time to have this conversation and discuss your respective assets.

If this column has taught me anything, it’s that there are no standard practices. I’ve received so many letters from people who have felt befuddled, bewildered and brutalized by their spouse or parent’s will. One man told me his father left him $10,000 and, in his mind, that meant his father didn’t love him. A young man wrote to me to say he believed he was robbed of his inheritance by his parents and sister because of his sexuality. I felt bad for him, but it was their choice.

People view the contents of wills and beneficiaries as a reflection of the depth of commitment and feeling within their relationship.

Another woman said her father had given her his word that she could buy his home, but then went back on his promise after she devoted years to him as a caregiver. Alas, I could see the writing on the wall as soon as she told me what her father had promised her. This mother said she didn’t want a red cent from her estranged husband because he was abusive. And this woman wanted to hold off on divorcing her husband until he received his inheritance.

My point? Emotions run high when it comes to beneficiaries on life insurance policies, and retirement and bank accounts. Many people see this as a reflection of the depth of commitment and love within their relationship. If you’re not on your husband’s savings account does that mean he doesn’t love you? No, it does not. Does it mean that you won’t be taken care of? No, it does not. Does it mean you won’t inherit 100% of your husband’s assets? Yes, it does.

Is this savings account a small (or large) slice of your husband’s entire net worth? Why shouldn’t his mother get something?

Only you know the details of your financial lives. Context is everything. Will you have enough money to live on after your husband dies? Did he alone save this money and is he entitled to do what he wants with them? Yes. Do you share the title on your home and will you have somewhere to live for your remaining days if he predeceases you? Is this savings account a small (or large) slice of your husband’s entire net worth? Why shouldn’t his mother get something?

His mother gave him life. He wouldn’t be here without her. She probably sacrificed a lot for him and, in the unlikely event that he predeceases her, he may simply wish to say thank you and make sure that she wants for nothing. That’s his right. It is his mother, after all. Perhaps rather than “confront” him about this decision, you could ask him about his thought process when he made it. As long as you are financially comfortable if he dies first — and vice-versa — I don’t see a problem.

There is a larger conversation to be had here about the importance of leaving a will and taking a bird’s eye view of the assets that you both brought into this marriage. Before having this conversation, however, I’d leave his mother and his funeral expenses out of it.

Do you have questions about inheritance, tipping, weddings, family feuds, friends or any tricky issues relating to manners and money? Send them to MarketWatch’s Moneyist and please include the state where you live (no full names will be used).

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