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Thursday, March 17, 2011

When my parent marries later in life, what are my rights?

Your 65-year-old Mom tells you that she is getting re-married. You congratulate her, mark the date on your calendar, and... research your legal rights?

That seems to be what's on the minds of many whose parent re-marries later in life. I notice that when this topic is raised, the question is not "do I have any rights?", but "what are my rights?". In other words, there is already an assumption out there that an adult child in this situation has some say in the matter.

Let's put all the cards on the table here. When I'm asked this question, the person is really asking me how they can prevent Mom or Dad's new spouse from getting his or her hands on the money and property the child was expecting to inherit. The concern is for the money.

I find this kind of thinking dangerous. It's the same sense of entitlement that causes perfectly normal adult children to help themselves to Mom or Dad's money using a Power of Attorney or joint bank account. The rationalization in that case is that one day it will belong to the child anyway so why can't the child just take it early?

As long as your parent has mental capacity, he or she can marry the person they choose, can spend their money how they choose, and can change their will if they choose. That's not up to you, like it or not. You can't insist that your parent share their money with you now, or make a new will leaving everything to you or sign a pre-nuptial agreement. Parents are adults.

It's a different story, of course, if your parent has lost mental capacity and is being taken advantage of by what is often called a "recent friend". Obviously all of us have the obligation to protect our aging parents from predators. If you've talked to your parent twice a week for the last 10 years and you've never heard of this new person, you might rightfully be suspicious.If money was disappearing and your parent didn't seem to understand where it went, or someone was threatening or bullying your parent into giving them money, you'd have an obligation to step in and protect your parent.

But as I said, the question asked is never about the child's obligations; it's always about their rights.

Your rights are to attend the wedding (if invited), bring a gift and to wish your Mom or Dad well.


  1. so, do children have any rights after a second marriage? my father remarried after an affair, and although the marriage is long term now it was very predatory all along, and the second wife brought no money or property into the marriage, yet her adult children stand to gain financially while myself and my siblings seem to be left with nothing for our children.

    1. Adult children have almost no rights at all when a parent remarries. After all, as long as your father has his mental faculties, he is entitled to do as he pleases with his money and his life. His kids don't have to like it. Yes, it's very possible that he may leave everything to his second wife, leaving nothing to you kids at all, and he is entitled to do that, within some parameters. For example, if one of his children is handicapped, that child should be supported by the father's estate after the father passes away. In BC, children have wider rights than in other places to challenge a will based on the principle of fairness.



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