being a second wife


The latest post at Abel Keogh’s Running Forward Widower Wednesday talks about pre-nups, wills and adult kids who can’t wrap their minds around the idea that their parents’ “wealth” belongs to their parents and not them.

I ran across this a lot at Ye Olde Widow board. People who were fine with idea of remarriage but adamant that their late spouse’s hard-earned this or that would never, ever, ever benefit in any way, shape or form the next spouse or, goddess in heaven forbid, his/her worthless children. A whole lot of assumption but basically stemming from the odd notion that what your late spouse might have left you in the form of life insurance, marital home or other valuables is somehow still his or hers.

When you die, you don’t take it with you. Not even in spirit. What happens, or is accumulated on earth, stays on earth. Furthermore, it becomes the property of someone else, who is now free to do whatever the hell they want with it. And trust me, they will. I have seldom witnessed someone inherit from a parent or grandparent and not piss the money away like trailer trash with a PowerBall jackpot.

As my late husband lay in the intensive care before being moved to hospice, his mother sent her best friend to query me about life insurance. How much? I was asked. And because I was completely stunned that anyone would ask such a question at such a time, I told her. Absolutely nothing.

It wasn’t until much later – after mother-in-law absconded with money from the memorial that was meant to help cover the expense of it – that I realized the inquiry about life insurance was about calculating her cut.

You would be amazed – or maybe not – by the people who truly believe that inheritance is a given and have their hands out sometimes way in advance of your death.

A sizable proportion of adult children are like this. They see their parents and grandparents as some sort of long-range saving plan. A way to pay off the mortgage, plump up retirement plans or just have a wad of cash to fritter away on vacations and material crap.

Second marriages make these kinds of people – nervous. They have visions of “their” inheritances being used frivolously by step-parents for outrageous things like … eating or paying the property tax and keeping a roof over their elderly heads.

So, the topic today is when you remarry, do you have a financial plan in place to make sure that in the event of your death your new spouse doesn’t end up homeless while your kids vacation in Tahiti?

Yeah, yeah. Their mommy or daddy would have wanted you to put your new spouse at the mercy of your greedy kids because after all, she or he worked themselves to death for the money that was left to you.

Except that they didn’t.

They took out that life insurance or built up the retirement plan to take care of you. You. Not your grown up kids, who you should have been taught well enough to be able to pay their own bills, save for their own retirement and goodies. You.

Money we inherit is no longer anyone’s money but ours.

Yes, we have an obligation to use it for the benefit of our minor children and to see that our very young adult children find a good footing in life, but at some point our kids get old. Really old. Sometimes as old as we were when we were widowed in the first place. They are adults who mostly ignore our advice in favor of what works best for them, and they build their own adult lives with their own spouses and their own kids. And if we did a good job raising them, they really shouldn’t be running to us with their hands out – ever.

But there are emergencies, you cry.

Yes, I would agree, but inheritance doesn’t fall into that category. Inheritance is a form of expectation based upon nothing more than the notion that because you sired or birthed them, they are entitled to some sort of monetary reward triggered by your death.

It’s wonderful when we can leave our kids, or grandkids, a little something, or even a lot of something, but we should shy far away from leading them to expect this from us. Or from giving them the impression that it is their due. It’s not owed to them because they merely exist.

Plenty of perfectly wonderful parents spend every last dime before they die. On themselves even! And sometimes they need that money because they get sick or have other pressing expenses.

Some parents and grandparents even leave their “fortunes” to charity or endowments or to people that aren’t even blood relations!

NOTHING good comes from adult children who’ve been led to believe that the money daddy left you is also theirs. Zero good. Refrain mightily from going there because even if you don’t remarry, it’s going to be a big ugly thorn in your side when you hit a certain age, and they start counting chickens they think you are overspending. You don’t ever want your 50 year old child questioning your need to take a trip or buy a new pair of boots or go out to lunch every Tuesday with your friends because it’s eating up the money you should be saving to leave him/her.

I am not exaggerating. Countless seniors live with harpy adult children who view all things mom/dad as eventually their things.

The best way to avoid tantrums from adult kids if you should decide to remarry is to not have even given your children cause to believe they have the right to question you on the subject of remarriage and to never have intimated that they are somehow entitled to an inheritance.

But if you haven’t done either, there is still hope. You can tell them now.

You should also make sure that you and your future spouse have thoroughly discussed all matters money. It’s helpful to have an idea of what you want your wills to look like in terms of what goes to whom and how you each plan to care for the other in the event of incapacitating illness and death. If there are assets or minor children that need special considerations, discuss and plan for that too.

Communication, as I have said before, is key. KEY.

Don’t be that elderly woman who is living in a house owned by her step-children who are just waiting for her to die so they can sell it.

Conversely, don’t be that old man whose late wife’s jewelry ended up in the hands of his second wife’s daughter-in-law because it wasn’t specified in the will that it should go to his granddaughter.

If it ‘s important then it is important enough to discuss and plan for IN WRITING and preferably with the assistance of a lawyer.

But just in case you can’t let go of the idea that procreation has saddled you with the task of scrimping, saving and leaving something to your grown up kids so they can enjoy a better retirement than you will, there are options like life insurance policies and trusts.

However, if you remarry, your primary concern should be your spouse. Leaving him or her to simply fend for themselves in their advancing years is so cold and harsh that it amazes me that people who would do this even find someone to marry again at all. What self-respecting person signs willingly to be accused of being a gold-digger and ends up on cat food and public assistance so their step-children can one day  indulge themselves on eBay?

Let’s sum up.

Money matters. Children do have the right to heirlooms. Second wives and husbands shouldn’t be at the financial mercy of step-kids when you are gone.

Talk, talk and talk some more about this before remarrying. Don’t include your kids! It’s not their business. Better yet, avoid raising your kids to feel entitled to enrich themselves via your death.

And finally. consult a financial planner or estate planner or lawyer or anyone who can walk you through the realities of what your new spouse will need by way of assets when you die. You might be surprised to find out that what you thought about money and second marriages and death isn’t at all what reality is.


Chevrolet Avalanche Z71 Plus cool exotic car

Image by airgap via Flickr

Rob will tell you that he always seems to end up married to women who stake their claim to the best vehicle, leaving him with the non-comfy and decidedly not cool in an unmanly way ride, and that, ironically in light of this, they are poor drivers in the bargain.

Last night, he related to me that a co-worker inquired about our sun-burst orange metallic (I love the name of the colour more than the colour sometimes) Chevy Avalanche.

“Did you sell your truck?” he asked after noting that Rob drives the very blue and most definitely mom-like Equinox these days.

“No,” and I imagine he sighs a bit and lets his shoulder droop just slightly, “a couple of winters ago, the Equinox had some problems, so I swapped the wife. When spring came, she just wouldn’t give up the truck.”

At this point there are knowing head nods and grimaced smiles which allow them to bond over the shared ritual of “manning up” for the significant other at great personal inconvenience. Every time his co-worker sees Rob climbing in or out of the Equinox now, he will rise just a bit more in the man’s esteem. A true working class hero tooling along in a feminine mobile for his woman.

If he’d really been interested in scoring points, he could have added, “The first wife did the same thing to me with the last Avalanche.”

As it stands, I hear that story. Often. Because we have been married long enough for stories to have made more than one conversation loop.

So this morning, the Avalanche needed to go into the shop for a tune-up in anticipation of holiday travel. Rob drove the Equinox and I followed him in the truck. I would essentially be without wheels for the day but we have a Silverado that technically is for hauling the holiday trailer which I could use if I needed to go into town.

Yes, we have two trucks and an SUV. This is Alberta. It’s like Texas minus the warmth and the religious right.

He pulled in and walked over to the service bay garage doors and motioned me to park alongside other waiting vehicles. The only space was tight and once in, I needed to reverse and back out or I was never going to be able to open the door enough to squeeze out.

In the rearview, I could see Rob – directly behind me, pensive and clearly wishing that he was behind the wheel in my place. Carefully I cranked the wheel – too tightly and I knew that but I was also hyper aware of the fear for his truck being shot at the back of my head like laser-vision in a bad Japanese monster flick – and backed up, bringing the truck too close to the vehicle to my left.

Panic! Danger! There might as well have been little speaker bubbles dancing above Rob’s head as he raced towards the left and attempted to get my attention, but despite his distracting me, I righted the truck and parked. He had the door open in an instance and asked me tersely to turn the engine key so he could get the mileage. I noted the tone but stopped mid-bristle and complied. I had committed the sin of not being him in a driving situation, so his tone was nothing personal. Part Virgo with man DNA. Familiar territory.

As we were heading back to the Equinox and home – this was after his Gitmo like interrogation of the service technician, who could only be grateful that waterboarding is not legal in Canada – I remarked on the “backing up” incident.

“You were a bit grumpily with me,” I said.

“What? I was?” he hadn’t noticed, hence the not taking it personally earlier.

“Oh but you were,” I countered.

“Well, maybe a little, ” he admitted.

We were hip to hip with arms circling as we discussed this and he squeezed me closer.

“You nearly hit that parked truck.”

“I knew exactly where I was and perhaps if you hadn’t been standing right behind the truck as I was backing up, I wouldn’t have come so close. I had to watch you as well as my position.”

He couldn’t fault my logical explanation because it really is a bad idea to stand directly behind a vehicle while it’s reversing course unless you have no choice or are actually being helpful in some manner. I was adjusting myself in a parking lot. Not a lot of tech assistance is needed.

“Okay,” he conceded, “but I was having flashbacks to the first wife backing the last Avalanche into the Astrovan.”

“Perhaps she knew you were glaring driving mojo at her and it distracted her. In which case, I know exactly how she felt.”

Long, long ago in our front drive, Shelley, Rob’s late wife, backed their black Avalanche into the old white Astrovan they’d purchased a decade earlier when they lived in Kansas. The black truck, just for those keeping track, is the one she appropriated from Rob, forcing him into the much more mommish van. It’s a testament to his strong Y gene that this didn’t debilitate him like kryptonite.

“So,” I said, changing the subject, “don’t forget to leave the keys to the white truck on the counter in case I need it.”

“Oh, I am leaving you the Equinox and taking the white truck,” he said.

“Because of the parking thing?”

“Yes, you’d have no sense of where you were in the white truck,” he said. “It would be like having you drive a parade float around all day.”

“And you would be calling me every hour all day wondering how the truck was,” I added.

At this point I am laughing at his sheepish expression. His concern for me, and the truck, was not nearly as close to the top of his agenda as his peace of mind and need to focus on his job today.

“You are so predictable, ” I said.

“You’re going to blog about this, aren’t you?”

“Ya think?”

“You are predictable too, Sweetie,” he said.

And so I am.

*In case you wondered about the title, the whole “second best car” thing reminded me that William Shakespeare left his wife the second best bed in the house in his will. Scholars debate this tidbit with zeal.


Today is the second anniversary of Shelley’s death. Two weeks ago MidKid was quizzing Rob about plans for the day and if I felt uncomfortable marking the anniversary. Like most people who haven’t lived this, she is curious about the effect that  “living in another woman’s shadow” has on me. After all I live in Shelley’s house. Sleep in her bed with her husband.

A more introspective person might have trouble with that.

It is a curious thing. I have spent more time in the past year and a half participating in the remembrances of Shelley and her departed loved ones than I have remembering my own late husband. In fact, as I thought more about it I realized I have devoted more time recently to memorializing people I don’t know than I have ever spent acknowledging the death anniversaries of members of my own family. Aside from having masses said, of course, we just didn’t count birthdays anymore or visit graves other than over the Memorial Day weekend. In fact aside from Will, I can’t even remember the specific dates anyone died, even those whose death had a great impact on me and my family.

What probably causes me the most discomfort is that fact that I don’t feel a ton of need to mark dates of death or anniversaries of birth, and so I am at a loss when others do feel the need.

Rob has spent the last several days telling Shelley’s story because he felt it was something he could do to mark the day.

Sometimes it seems very important to mark the day(s) but how to do it is not always as obvious.

Other widowed we know tell their stories. Some about the end. Some about the beginning.

I wonder what Shelley would think about it all. I sometimes think I know more about her than I do my own sisters but I haven’t any idea when it comes to this.

Will would be appalled.

Although I have written about his death, and I did that very early on, I plan to revisit it again only when I write my memoir this fall – and then never again from a specific detail point of view. Most of what I write/have written where grief and widowhood are concerned is about me and the experiences I had. And about moving on*.

Will’s story is his.

I don’t feel right about exposing him more than I already do to the world. He was a very private person. This blog for example would have made him very uncomfortable.

Sometimes – okay, all the time – I feel that the observations of other widowed and the omnipresent role that their deceased spouses take in their current lives is just proof of what a terrible person I am because Will has no role or place now. Often I don’t think about him or our life at all.

My last post about our wedding anniversary almost didn’t happen. The first version was a very angry diatribe about why I can’t romanticize the past and am much happier where I am than I have ever been in my whole life – thank you very much. I still feel defensive about being happy when so many people would go back in a heartbeat. But it’s ridiculous. My life is not open for debate, and I don’t need to feel bad for being where I want to be and happy about it.

The compromise post was just memories. Not great ones but they went with the soundtrack, and the song seemed appropriate to the event and how I feel about it. And most important, they are mine.

But I don’t know that I want to continue marking days**. In fact, I know I don’t. It feels like obligation*** rather than true sentiment.

Shelley died two years ago today.

I owe my happiness to her.

It’s not a comfortable thing to know, and I don’t know at all what it says about life or the universe or God or me.

*I hate the term “moving forward” but I adopted it when I was at the YWBB and posting because it was less incendiary, but what we do really is move on.

** I had already broached Rob with the idea that just he and the girls get together. I am not uncomfortable with gatherings but I am keenly aware that they hold back because BabyD is there and that I am not their mom.

*** Obligation is probably not the best word. I feel I need to be around for Rob. The girls are adults but we are all still children to our parents. I know in my twenties the fall back position when I was around my folks was effortless, and the girls need to be able to lean on Rob and express their grief. They are not as far in their journey as he is because kids of all ages grieve in spurts and in between the experiences that are transforming them.