I am a stay-at-home mom for our little babies. My husband and I have been married for 11 years. We are buying a new house and he refuses to put my name on the house deed. My husband has kids from his past marriage of seven years. His EX has custody of those kids. My name is not on the deed of the house we live in now. This house is in my husband and his ex’s names.
Here are my questions:
1. In 2016, my husband agreed to change the beneficiary on his life insurance, retirement funds and other assets from our children to his child from his previous marriage. In agreeing to this, I did not know that he had decided to steal my marital assets. As for his life insurance, am I still entitled to all our marital assets as his wife after his death, even with those changes? If not, what shall I do to get my marital assets back?
2. He hinted that after two years he will sell our future house bought with our marital income. As I said, he refuses to put my name on the deed of the new house. What should I do to enforce my right as his WIFE to make him put my name on the deed of this new house? What should I do to prevent him from selling this house that might not have my name on its deed?
Thank you much for all your help,
Dear Second Wife,
Your definition of marriage and the responsibilities that come with that is right on the money. Your view of marital assets is not quite as straightforward. The depth of your feeling comes across with your uppercase letters and, frankly, I don’t blame you. I don’t understand a man who would choose one child over others to be beneficiaries on his life insurance. The fact that he did without discussing it with you first is equally egregious. The fact that he now wants to buy a home alone is even more perplexing. Only you know the state of your marriage and the character of the man you married, but from an outsider perspective it sounds like he is planning an exit.
As for the first part of your first dilemma, it’s complicated, not unlike your husband’s recent machinations. “Unless prohibited to do so by law, anyone can be named as beneficiary to a life insurance policy, regardless of whether or not he or she has any vested interest in the insured,” according to Chad Boonswang, a litigation lawyer in Philadelphia, Pa. “The process of changing beneficiaries can be initiated at any time the insured wishes to do so. However, divorce can heavily complicate this. Some states automatically revoke ex-spouses as beneficiaries after filing for divorce.”
Do you live in a community-property state? Louisiana, Arizona, California, Texas, Washington, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico and Wisconsin deal with retirement accounts differently from other states. Community-property states don’t generally take kindly to spouses who change the beneficiary of their retirement accounts without their husband or wife’s consent. The fact that your husband, in this case, is removing one child as beneficiary in favor of another from a previous marriage is more complicated, but a divorce judge in a community-property state may not look kindly upon that switch. Retirement accounts are often major points of contention in divorce cases. If you do not decide to remain married, I see that as an understandable flashpoint here.
“If you file for divorce, the amount of property you will receive will depend on several factors including the length of the marriage, how much property each of you have, and whether the two of you have children together,” says Blake Harris, owner of Mile High Estate Planning, an estate-planning law firm with offices in Denver, Colo. and Miami, Fla.
“Depending on which state you live in, you may have the right to an ‘elective share’ at the time of your husband’s death. An ‘elective share’ is intended to prevent married individuals from disinheriting their spouse. The elective share is calculated differently in every state. For example, in Florida, you have the right to one-third of your spouse’s estate at their death. In Colorado, you have the right to 5% of your spouse’s estate for every year you were married up to 50%.”
Consult a lawyer right away. Godspeed, Second Wife, and please let me know how it goes.
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