A Wealth Planner’s Guide to Prenups - Blair Trippe

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Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash

The Prenup. One set of parents insists on it; other family members are dead-set against it. Trusts and legal documents might require it, and advisors of all types have an opinion on it. But, the last thing a betrothed couple wants to do when embarking on their life together is to plan for its demise. So, how can couples approach this important and often unavoidable topic productively together?

The disparity of Wealth

Prenups become hot-button issues especially when wealth is lopsided when one intended spouse has more current or future access to significantly more assets than the other. This disparity of wealth can arise in many ways. In some cases, wealth may have been earned by one spouse prior to the marriage and controlled outright. In other cases, the future spouse may be the beneficiary of a trust or the expected heir of a significant inheritance. The range of situations that trigger an interest in prenuptial agreements is endless, but prenups are typically considered whenever there’s a complex mix of significant assets in differing amounts that each partner brings to the table.

Power Imbalance

No doubt you’ve heard that “money is power.” We see this in all areas of our lives from politics and business to say nothing of the framework of social relationships. Marriage is yet another venue for this money/power dynamic to play out. When one spouse comes from and/or has their own money or access to family wealth, and the other doesn’t, there can be a palpable power imbalance in the relationship. How couples manage this power imbalance concerning their wealth has a tremendous influence on their relationship.

But, wealth is more than a source of power. Wealth, and how we choose to integrate it into our lives, is indicative of some of our core values. Our individual histories regarding wealth — or the lack of it — are self-defining experiences. Therefore, our relationship with wealth is part of our identity.

Opportunity for Discussion

Rather than looking at a prenup as simply a negotiation about money in preparation for a potential divorce, consider instead that it’s an opportunity to discuss how the engaged couple will integrate wealth into their lives together and manage the shared burden of wealth and/or the wealth disparity in their marriage. The prenup discussion presents the perfect opportunity to talk about how to manage all the ways wealth can impact a marriage.

Four Conversations

Before diving into the discussion about a prenup, it’s helpful for clients to discuss the topic of wealth in marriage from a variety of perspectives: Wealth identity: What is each partner’s history and experience regarding wealth? How does wealth shape their value-systems, life choices, and goals? How do these identity issues extend to each partner’s families and extended families, and where might incompatibilities exist?

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