“We would like to give you $700,000 to help you to buy a house, but we want you to sign an agreement to make sure that if something happens to you and [insert name of partner] the money stays with you.” (Business Insider Australia, 2017).
Increasing numbers of millennials are getting prenups; this trend is no longer surprising, but there’s an interesting twist: matrimonial attorneys are also citing an increase in baby boomer parents requiring their millennial adult children to get prenups and in doing so inserting themselves into the process of negotiating their millennial children’s premarital agreements.
An unprecedented generational wealth transfer is beginning to occur between baby boomers and millennials. Usually, parental involvement in prenups is connected to this wealth transfer and stems from a desire to protect family businesses, wealth, or other family assets. One common manifestation of the trend, seen in the quote above, involves boomer parents offering to help their less wealthy children acquire property…with strings attached (Business Insider Australia, 2017).
The exchange quoted above is not uncommon. Parental involvement in prenups is not inherently good or bad; it simply represents a relatively new trend and comes with its own unique set of benefits and drawbacks.
Benefits of parental involvement in premarital agreements
-It can be intimidating to raise the topic of a prenup with your partner; if a parent(s) of a future spouse (or, in some cases, a family trust or corporation) is the party who initially makes the request, some of the pressure is taken off the partner who is asking for a prenup. This can make the topic easier to bring up and the discussion less tense (Empyrion, 2021).
-Having a parent involved in legal negotiations that concern family wealth may be an advantage, because parents will usually have a better understanding of family finances and can help their children to understand and make informed decisions regarding their financial situation and the future of family wealth.
–Parental involvement in the decision to get a prenup for the purpose of protecting family assets need not necessarily imply financial exclusion of the future spouse. These discussions can also lead to inclusion of the future spouse in the lineage of family assets. Some agreements stipulate, for example, that a future spouse can develop a 25% interest in the asset over a certain number of years (Business Insider Australia, 2017).
Drawbacks of parental involvement in premarital agreements
-A parent’s request for a prenup can spark relationship tensions between children and parents, between a future spouse and their in-law(s), and between partners themselves.
-Some parents attempt to become overly involved or to push their wishes for the contract on an unwilling or hesitant child (Battey, 2019).
-Legal problems (privilege issues) can arise if the parent insists on being present during the child’s meetings with their lawyer (Battey, 2019).
When a parent wants to be involved in their kid’s premarital contract, where should the line (respectfully) be drawn? One way to answer this question is to consider whether the parent’s requests for the agreement are all related to ensuring the lineage of family assets. If so, their concern and involvement is understandable and need not be seen as problematic. However, if the parent is also trying to force their views regarding finances or even their child’s future partner into the contract, their involvement is no longer exclusively about wealth transfer and may be crossing a line.
All parties, including future spouses and any involved parents, should define roles, boundaries and expectations at the outset of the process. This can optimize communication and dramatically decrease the likelihood and magnitude of conflict. If you are engaged and discussing your prenup with a parent, don’t be afraid to politely set clear boundaries.
Here are some questions which can help guide parents and their children/future in-laws at the outset of a conversation about a premarital contract:
-What parts of the contract are the parent(s) welcome to be involved in negotiating?
-What parts of the contract are the parent(s) expected to refrain from trying to influence?
-Will the parent(s) be permitted to be a part of meetings or correspondences between the child and their lawyer? If so, to what extent and in what capacity?
Parents, if you’re reading this…
You may be asking yourself whether or not you should be involved in your kid’s prenup. Your intentions are good; you want to protect hard-earned assets (and your kid!) in the event of a relationship breakdown, but you don’t want to disrespect any boundaries or be stereotyped as the ‘bossy in-law’ (Empyrion, 2021) and risk alienating your future son or daughter-in-law. How should you approach this sticky but important question?!
When you talk to your kid about this, consider involving not only them but also their future spouse in the initial discussion. Sometimes speaking first to your child privately and then having them speak to your future son or daughter-in-law can result in miscommunication or give your kid’s partner the impression that you are going behind their back. Although it might be uncomfortable, including them in the initial discussion can help to convey respect.
When you have ‘the talk’, make sure you express both your confidence in their relationship and your desire to protect family wealth just in case of the extenuating circumstance of an (unexpected) relationship breakdown. For example, you might tell your child and/or future child-in-law something like this (tailored to your specific situation):
“It’s not that I don’t trust in the stability of your relationship. I am really glad for you guys and am rooting for your success! I just want to legally ensure that family wealth and assets which I am responsible for protecting will stay in the family. It’s your business whether you include anything else in a premarital agreement or not, and I won’t give advice on other aspects of the agreement unless you ask. But, since the lineage of wealth and assets affect our whole family, I’d like to request that you arrange for a premarital contract covering these things. What do you think?”
Like it or not, the trend of parental involvement in prenups may be here to stay. Remember that parents probably have their kids’ best interest at heart, that protecting family assets does not always have to mean excluding a partner from that wealth, and that ultimately the spouses-to-be make the final decisions regarding their prenup.
Battey, J. 2019. Why Affluent Parents are Increasingly Involved in their Millennial Children’s Prenuptial Agreements. Retrieved from: https://www.worth.com/why-affluent-parents-are-increasingly-involved-in-their-millennial-childrens-prenuptial-agreements/
Business Insider Australia. 2017. Parents Want Millennials to Sign Prenups if They Want Help to Buy Property. Retrieved from: https://www.businessinsider.com/parents-want-millennials-to-sign-prenups-if-they-want-help-to-buy-property-2017-9
Empyrion Wealth Management. 2021. Should You Be Involved in Your Kid’s Prenuptial Agreement? Retrieved from: https://empyrionwealth.com/blog/great-wealth-transfer-prenuptial-agreement/