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The Moneyist: I paid $600,000 for a house, and my fiancée paid $200,000. I put her name on the deed, but my lawyer says I should own 75%. How can I fix this?

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Dear Quentin,

I am 62 and about to remarry. I have significant assets. My attorney recommended a prenuptial agreement to my fiancée and has offered sound estate-planning advice. I recently purchased a house and placed my fiancée, 56, on the title as joint owner with rights of survivorship. I put $600,000 down with mortgage worth approximately $200,000, which my fiancée paid off. That was generous and welcome, as she should have some equity in the house, but is 50% equity fair? 

My fiancée insists that we remain 50/50 in the case of divorce and wants to inherit the house upon my death. My attorney recommended that a 75/25 split be recognized in an amended title, prenup and will, so I can leave a 75% interest to my children. My future wife would live in the house for the remainder of her life, but she must leave 75% of the value of the home to my children. She refuses and promises to amend her will to leave something to my children. 

Is there anything I can do at this point? My lawyer recommends that I don’t sign a prenuptial agreement and don’t get married under these conditions.

Perplexed in Colorado

Dear Perplexed,

This is a case of puppy-dog syndrome. Once you give somebody something that brings a feeling of security and happiness, it’s very hard to take it back.

You are asking your fiancée to swap 50% ownership with rights of survivorship for a 25% stake as tenants in common — where each party does not automatically inherit their spouse’s share. I believe your suggestion is more equitable, but given that you signed on the dotted line I can see why your girlfriend is refusing to budge.

As a general rule, ask your attorney for advice and take action based on that advice. You allowed your emotions and generosity to lead you into a situation that is, unfortunately, irreversible. That is, you cannot undo the title deed without the permission and cooperation of your fiancée. 

In the early stages of a relationship, particularly with the excitement of planning a wedding and envisioning a perfectly happy life together, it’s very easy to put romance ahead of finance. We idealize our partner and may have unrealistically glamorous and dreamy expectations of the life that lies ahead. 

But marriage is a business contract, as well as a romantic commitment. You have essentially gifted your fiancée $200,000 free and clear, taking into account the $200,000 she contributed toward the cost of the house. As your attorney pointed out, you have contributed more than 75% of the overall cost for a 50% share.

“I agree with your attorney on two fronts. You have two pieces of leverage: the prenuptial agreement, and the marriage itself. ”

Your fiancée has taken a tough stance. She is now playing the role of the business partner. That makes sense from her perspective: Why would she give you back that 25% share if she is under no legal obligation to do so? You have officially exited the romantic phase of your relationship and crash-landed into the real world.

I agree with your attorney on two fronts. You have two pieces of leverage: the prenuptial agreement, and the marriage itself. You should not get married without a prenuptial agreement, and holding off on the marriage until you renegotiate the title deed of your house may be enough to force your fiancée’s hand. 

If your relationship comes a cropper, she walks away with an extra $200,000, minus the costs of selling your home. But that’s all she gets. Either way, do not marry without a prenuptial agreement. They are particularly important for older couples who have substantial assets, and younger couples who own their respective homes.

You have worked hard and your children deserve their share of your estate, if that is your wish. If your fiancée does not accept that, you have some soul-searching to do. Ask your girlfriend: “Why do you think it’s equitable for me to contribute 75% and only receive a 50% interest?” Her answer or lack thereof may prove illuminating.

On the upside, if you do manage to negotiate a way forward that satisfies both parties, it’s a good exercise for navigating the rest of your marriage.

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. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

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Also read:

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‘My eyes rolled so far back in my head it gave me a headache’: I carpool with two co-workers. One refuses to take turns. With gas prices so high, is that fair?

‘I came into the marriage with a lot more money’: Is it ethical to give cash from my pre-marital investment accounts to my kids — without telling my second wife?

Learn how to shake up your financial routine at the Best New Ideas in Money Festival on Sept. 21 and Sept. 22 in New York. Join Carrie Schwab, president of the Charles Schwab Foundation.

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