Jane Bryant Quinn: Prenups Aren't for Sissies

There I stood, in Vera Wang's dreamy Madison Avenue shop, trying on a wedding dress. On either side, 25-year-olds, with their mothers, their bridesmaids and their 22-inch waists. In the center, me, trying to pull something white and swishy over my hips. Available wedding dates are few for brides of a certain age. You have to celebrate after your grandchildren get out of school and before your friends go away for the summer. So I'll be a June bride. I have two more weeks and am hustling to finish the paperwork.

Oy, the paperwork!

When my husband died four years ago, I hadn't expected love to come back into my life. It did, in the person of Carll and his children. Between us, we have eight. That raises the unromantic question faced by all parents who go to the altar, bringing families along. What do you do about the money?

If you do nothing, state law intervenes. When one of you dies, the other can claim a share of the assets, no matter what it says in your will. If you divorce (gulp), a court can divide the property in ways that seem fair. Couples wanting a different result have to draw up a prenuptial agreement—a legal contract defining the financial arrangement they prefer.

It's one thing to write about prenups, as I have before, and quite another to live through their making. Most decisions were easy. One, however, required us to dig into feelings that were hard to talk about. Embarrassing, even. Doing prenups isn't for sissies.

The easy things were our separate assets. Neither of us needs financial support. The prenup says that what's mine goes to my kids when I die, and what's his goes to his.

There's a twist with my retirement fund. You can leave an Individual Retirement Account to anyone you want. By law, however, some or all of your 401(k) or pension trust is earmarked for your spouse. A prenup can't change that. To free me to leave my pension trust to my kids, Carll has to sign a special waiver after we marry, not before.

So here's the nightmare (only an obsessive financial reporter could think this one up): I say "I do," waltz from the wedding ceremony to the party tent, trip on the dance floor, break my neck and breathe my last. Carll inherits the pension trust and can't give it back to the kids without paying a gift tax. They rebel. I haunt the lot of them.

OK, thoughts like that mean I need calming down. Nevertheless, I asked a lawyer who'll be at the wedding to drop his notary stamp in his pocket. I won't take a step until the waiver is signed and legalized.

The tough decision was what to do about the weekend house we own together in upstate New York. When we bought it, we agreed that if one of us died or the relationship failed, the house would be sold and the proceeds divided. That was still OK with me. For Carll, however, the house is now our baby and he'd hate to lose it. If I gave him my half, it would take a chunk out of the assets I'm leaving for my kids. I balked.

This sudden, fierce desire to protect my children's full inheritance came as a surprise. After all, I'm getting married—for richer, for poorer, and all that. Spouses are supposed to take care of each other financially, as well as emotionally. How could I tell him no? There's other money for the kids.

Reaching a resolution took several uncomfortable (for me) conversations. In the end, it worked out. Each of us will be able to keep the house if we want, with the kids inheriting it, eventually. And—very important—all the children are in the loop. I don't believe in surprises when the will is read.

Meanwhile, back at Vera Wang, I arrived for my first fitting. The gorgeous young thing at the desk looked at me and asked, "What's your daughter's name?" "It's me," I said. "I'm the bride!"

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