The Moneyist: My fiancé, 56, wants me to give up my affordable New York rental. Will his kids get his home when he dies?

United States

Dear Moneyist,

I am a 49-year-old woman about to be married for the second time. I work and I am self-sufficient and have been my entire life, but as a single mom, I don’t have much in savings. I have a 23-year-old son who works and shares an apartment with two roommates.

My fiancé is a wonderful 56-year-old man who is caring and giving. He is a widower with two adult children, who are also on their own. My fiancé owns his own business and has done well for himself. However, I don’t want to be out in the cold. Let me explain why.

After we’re married, my fiancé wants me to give up my apartment that I rent and move into his home. I live in one of the most expensive cities in the U.S. However, I’ve lived in my apartment for over 10 years and the rent is affordable, and I love the location.  

I don’t expect him to put my name on a house he owned with his first wife, but I’m concerned about what would happen if he died. I assume he would leave the house to his children, but what would happen to me?

Would I be forced to leave his home and find an apartment that most likely would be more than I could afford? By the way, my landlord won’t allow me to sublet my apartment because she could get so much more if I moved out.

What should I do before I say I do?

Getting Married in New York

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Dear Getting Married,

These are good conversations to have before getting married, and before giving up your beloved home. I suggest having the conversation about your financial future(s) separately, and not tying it to your current living situation. Segues into this conversation like “I need to know before I hand in my notice to my landlord,” or “Why should I give up this great apartment without knowing what I’m walking into…” are not advisable. It would trivialize the larger conversation.

There is not a small amount of uncertainty with this apartment. From what you say, it sounds like you are getting a good deal with this apartment rather than living in a rent-stabilized apartment — they are sought after in New York City like Jason searched for that golden fleece. Anything could happen, in that case. The rent could go up, your landlord could sell the building, or she could decide she wants to rent it to someone else and get more money for it. 

There is a lot of uncertainty in marriage, too. You could live happily ever after or divorce after 10 years, and you would have to find another place to live, and rely on your own savings and whatever settlement you agree upon, and that is your responsibility, and not that of your future husband. Assuming that does not happen, however, you could always agree upon a life estate or tenancy for life: If your fiancé predeceases you, you live there for the rest of your days.

Most big decisions involve some kind of risk-reward calculation: “Will I take that new job? But what if it doesn’t work out and the company goes under, or I hate my new boss, and then I’ve left this perfectly comfortable job where I wasn’t that unhappy anyway?” Or, “Am I over-invested in stocks for my age and constitution?” What you are coming up against ahead of your wedding is your own risk tolerance. This is a good opportunity to figure out yours.

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