Second Marriage – What Happens When One Spouse Dies… (Based on True Story)

This is a true story. Woman in her sixties came to my law office. Her husband of twenty years died suddenly from a heart attack on the way to the bank to deposit his paycheck. She and her late husband had no children together. She works as a home attendant – her husband was a businessman and a main income producer. He had two daughters from prior marriage: one currently living in Russia, and another one in Canada.Both daughters came to their father’s funeral and immediately demanded to get “their share” of father’s assets. The main asset, which was left, was the house, currently on late husbands’ name. The house was the spouses’ sole residence and the main source of income as they rented the first floor to the store, and the second floor to a tenant. The deceased husband left no will or a trust. Thus, his assets (house and all possessions inside it) would be distributed by default, in accordance with New York’s Intestacy laws. Two daughters from husband’s prior marriage immediately demanded their share of assets, which was slightly less than one-half of the house.

Woman stressed that her husband intended for her and not his daughters (who were both well off) to inherit the house. It was never his intention to leave her, his wife of over 20 years, penniless. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Under NY laws, his daughters were now entitled to receive their share of assets as neither her, nor her late husband ever bothered to write a trust. According to the woman, she never thought that her husband would suddenly collapse and die at the age of 64…

As expected, the late husband’s daughters, seeking their share, demanded that the house be immediately sold for its fair market value. (The house was evaluated to be $750,000. Consequently, approximately $375,000 plus assets inside the house belongs to two of them.) The woman had no money for the administration proceedings (in her case, over $10,000) and, moreover, had no place to live if the house had to be sold. To make her situation worse, upon losing the house, woman would also lose her “landlord income” from renting the first floor to the store and second floor to the tenant. Unsurprisingly, she was inquiring whether it was possible to avoid the sale of the house.

Unfortunately, I had to inform the woman that it was too late at this stage, other than to proceed with daughters demand. She would be unable to “buy out” her stepdaughters’ share and stay in the house, as her home attendant salary was not enough to even pay the bills. Woman was very distressed and explicitly asked me to share her story with others.

As we all age, it is impossible to predict what will happen at any given moment. We should be proactive and plan ahead: go to any competent attorney to draft basic estate planning documents. This is especially important if there is a second marriage, minor children or older parents who receive SSI/Medicaid, but depend on you for support. It is very sad to hear true stories such as this one. And if by reading it, at least one person will not make the same mistake as husband did in this story than we will all feel good about making a difference.