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Feb. 4, 2018, 11:14 a.m. EST

I want to leave my estranged children money, but my second wife will freak out

Should this man quietly include his kids in his estate planning and should he give his more hostile children less?

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By Quentin Fottrell, MarketWatch

Dear Moneyist,

I’m an upper middle-aged male and seven years into a happy second marriage to my early-senior-aged wife. My first marriage ended after 30 years and produced four children, all now adults. The divorce went quickly. The equitable distribution was a bitter, expensive two-year process leading to a significant estrangement from two of my children. The other two are kind to me, but only one of that pair is kind to their stepmother (who has been kind to those who would let her).

I will obviously leave retirement savings, work pension, and any additional savings and property to my second wife. She’s not in the best of health and wouldn’t do well on her current Social Security award. However, I disinherited my children in my will. At the time I made my will there were significant reasons to disinherit my children by default: Three were quite hostile to me, and the fourth had difficulties with managing her mother’s manipulations and greedy demands on her.

I’m reconsidering this stance.

Don’t miss: Did my sister have the right to sell our parents’ home and pocket the cash?

I’m feeling some sense of recognizing them in a final estate. This could best occur by designating them as beneficiaries to one of my life insurance policies. It would also be a discreet (and discrete) method that would avoid probate and keep some hostile adult kids from their scorned stepmother.

However, I don’t want to sneak behind my wife’s back to do so. I also don’t like the discord in my marriage this would bring. But there’s no way I’ve found to square this circle, apart from just waiting. And I find it ghoulish to mentally calculate on my wife’s passing as necessary to bequeath without noise. I also need to admit most of my adult kids continue to be estranged and nasty, despite my reaching out.

That leads to another question: if I bequeath, do I do so evenly? Or proportionally, recognizing those who have tried to maintain a relationship?

Perplexed

Dear Perplexed,

I’m sorry you’ve fallen out with your children or, at least, they have fallen out with you and I take my hat off to you for wanting to leave them something. That’s a good instinct. At some point in their lives, they will remember the good times, even for a moment. This will be a testament to the fact that — despite everything that went down — you are still their father.

In that spirit, follow your gut. Include them in some way, and do so equitably. If you pass away after 10 years of marriage, your wife will have rights to a widow’s payments from your Social Security, rather than receive the lower sum from her own. Your spouse is entitled to the money in your retirement account unless she signs a waiver, giving up her rights as a beneficiary.

Also see: My husband is either giving $300,000 to a religious cult, being blackmailed — or plotting a divorce

As for those assets that will go through probate, such as a large sum of money in your bank account, I advise you to consult your wife, and proceed with honesty and transparency. As for your wife? Even if you decide to do this quietly, it will always prey on your conscience and, if you predeceased her, she would find out after you’ve gone. That may leave her with many unanswered questions.

Include her in the conversation and on the amount you decide to leave them. If you don’t, that would defeat the purpose of doing this good deed in the first instance. Preface any discussion by telling your wife that she need not worry about her own financial security. She may or may not agree, but I’m betting that your transparency and open heart is what drew her to you in the first place.

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).

Would you like to sign up to an email alert when a new Moneyist column has been published? If so, click on this link.

Hello there, MarketWatchers. Check out the Moneyist private Facebook group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas: inheritance, wills, divorce, tipping, gifting. I often talk to lawyers, accountants, financial advisers and other experts, in addition to offering my own thoughts. I receive more letters than I could ever answer, so I’ll be bringing all of that guidance — including some you might not see in these columns — to this group. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

Quentin Fottrell is MarketWatch's personal-finance editor and The Moneyist columnist for MarketWatch. You can follow him on Twitter @quantanamo.

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