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January 28, 2008


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All I have to say is that if you were a man, you'd get a lot of hate on this board for even proposing a pre-nup. Double standard.

I think you are smart to think of a pre-nup if you stand to inherit a substantial amount. It was smart to delay the wedding as well. Perhaps the two of you can work out a budget that the two of you can live with that will allow him to pay down his debt. If he loves you and is marrying you for love, I don't see why he wouldn't agree to that. Then you know the two of you will start out a marriage that is based on honesty and the ability to work through things together, especially when money and finances are the number one problem among couples. Set a goal that once he has reached a certain level in his debt reduction, you can start planning the wedding again.

That may have been true a few years back, Susan, but now everyone has to look out for their finances.

I'd seek a lawyer's advice. And do what she did; ask someone who knows finances better than I.

I think this is definitely something to be concerned about, I would definitely talk things through with him, talk about setting up a budget, lay some money/spending ground rules and really just make sure that this isn't going to be a continuing problem. I would also make sure that his problems with money don't translate to other areas of his life as well - does he also have problems with truthfulness, gambling, alcohol, etc? While it certainly is possible that the area of money is his only shortfall, i would guess that he may have issues in other areas as well.

In any event, I wouldn't rule out a marriage to this gentleman, because love is a powerful thing. Just make sure you're going in with eyes wide open.

I don't think you're ready to get married for 2 reasons:

1. If he's been hiding this, what else is he hiding? And, how did he get this much debt?

2. You're not saying "we". You keep saying "his debt", "he can't pay it", "he fails to pay". That doesn't sound like you're ready to commit to him with all his "warts".

Wow - this is a huge problem in my eyes. Mostly because of the "age" the writer is at, suggesting that the intending is also in that age group.

I tend to believe that the gentleman is most likely a habitual debtor. Yes, he could change - I believe change is possible for all - but I think that the possibility of change decreases with the length of time the habit has been fed.

From my past experience, the lenders will immediately try to throw her in. It is a dirty tactic, but it does work to get them some cash. It is also illegal for all debts created BEFORE the union.

This could be a hassle for her in the future. Not to mention a strain on their sacrament of marriage. I think marriage is work and shouldn't be taken lightly. I would suggest that she NOT enter into this situation - until it is rectified and the gentleman has it under control - alone.

It would be better for both of them. Helping that they do NOT harbor ill feelings for each other, stemmed from money.

What ever she and he chose - I hope they forever keep their eyes wide open. Money destroys so many.

So far, you've done all things, including postponing the wedding. Like others said, get very good legal advice. I won't even consider marrying anyone with that kind of debt. As a social worker, I would be concerned that that level of indebtedness is a symtom of larger issues. You could give this man a timeline to pay down at least a percentage of the debt. See how he receives that, and more importantly, how he follows up. That will be indicative of of his behavior around money. At this stage in your life you can't afford to make a financial mistake. Good luck!

I would say good for you for putting on the brakes. He definitely needs to get control of his finanaces and get a plan before embarking on a marriage. You don't want to go down with his boat! Help and support him, but he needs to learn the right way to do things. If he loves you, he won't working hard to clean up his mess and mind waiting a year or two to start your lives together.

I mean no disrespect, but, honestly, this entire situation sounds like a Jane Austen novel, in which case I'd have to advise you to beware the charming cad trying to pay off his debts. My vulcan, "emotions be damned" plan would be:

1. Sit down, possibly with a professional, and evaluate all of his debts vs. his assets & income.
2. If he can't pay it down except through marriage, have him file bankruptcy before you marry him.
3. If he can pay it off on his own, go with the pre-nup and make sure his debts are not your own.
4. If it looks like he's got a real spending problem (as opposed to some rotten luck), and you still want to marry him, make sure debt responsibility is part of the pre-nup.

Obviously, your mileage will vary in real life as most people probably wouldn't react well to signing a pre-nup, and it's up to you to judge the situation. I'm in no position to evaluate his character or your relationship, and can't balance that against the debt obligations.

Ignoring the emotional issues that others are more akin to discussing,

While the pre-nup, is a great idea, there is a better one and must be taken into account. More details are needed, but this money you are set to inherit should be placed in a trust FROM THE MOMENT OF THE BEQUEST.

In New York, a Trust (correctly drafted) is protected from your creditors nevertheless his.

I'm just following up because I come off like a total jerk in my above post, and I apologize for it.

I don't think George came off as a jerk at all.

I wouldn't marry this man -- pre-nup or not -- but I'm not the woman in question.

I have a couple of other questions.

Do you have children? If you do, I believe it is your responsibility as their mother to protect them financially (and in other ways) at all costs. George's advice is a good thought-starter. Get to a lawyer and draw up something that protects your assts that is iron-clad.

Do you see other emotional problems in this man that may have led up to this debt? Alcoholism, gambling, unresolved childhood needs that manifest themselves in shopping -- all come to mind. You might want to consider some pre-marital counseling.

I wound definitely not marry someone with that much debt especially in your 50's when there just isn't as much time to fix the problem. I'd stay in the relationship but I sure wouldn't enter a business partnership with this person. Is that all he's hiding? I'd want to know what all the debt is from -- I'm very distrustful of middle-aged people with debt -- what have you been doing with you whole life to essentially be worth nothing???

Yeah, when you marry someone you become responsible for their debts.

The advice about a trust for your inheritance is a good one, assuming you can convince the individual planning to give you the inheritance to set one up. It might be possible then to preserve that from creditors' attacks and protect it in the event of a dissolution of a marriage.

BTW, a word of caution about the pre-nup stuff. Most people I know who have entered into a pre-nup end up divorced. So make sure you understand your own emotional reasons for asking for one. I'm not saying don't get one if that's something important to you, but as my contracts professor at Harvard used to say about pre-nups: they are built on the false premise that people don't change in marriage. (Particularly the ones that go past the basics and get into things about kids, etc.)

The real question you face is whether you still want to marry this man. That's the one you need to decide. And I don't think knowing whether a pre-nup can protect your assets really gets to that question. I'd suggest talking to him openly about the debt and how he feels about it and plans to address it. And factor that into everything else you are evaluating in your judgment about whether to proceed with the marriage. And if you decide, yes, you do want to marry this man, then I'd focus (together, btw) on how you both are going to approach the issue of his debt (i.e., is he going to commit to paying it down, etc.) in a way that you can both live with.

I have yet another question: how much is this debt in full? If it's over 150,000, and you are both in your fifties, it's going to affect when and if you can retire. I have to say that someone in their fifties (if that is what this person is) is not likely to change their habits much. So paying it off may be a long process.

I get all kinds of red flags on this. I'd have a hard time toasting at the wedding!

oh and just to clarify one thing. Debt incurred prior to the marriage, in a divorce, can often be attributed to just the one partner and thus remain that partner's responsibility. But again, I know everyone cites the high divorce rates these days, and thus say pre-nups are needed. I tend to think it is the other way around. Pre-nups and the high divorce rates are symptoms of how we culturally now treat marriage and relationships. Bottom line: work together to figure out what to do. And if it is to still get married, don't until you both have agreed upon how you will approach the question of tackling the debt.

wow- I wouldn't marry this guy. Would you be averse to just living with him w/out the formal marriage? That's what I would do until he got his financial house in order.


I completely agree that when a man poses this same question, everyone jumps all over him.

To everyone saying "What else has he been hiding?"

1) When should you share something like this that may scare someone off? First Date? Third Date? Everyone has stuff that they've been trying to bring up with their signficant other that keeps slipping. I'd say to feel lucky that you have found out about it before tying the knot.
2) Many debtors don't realize they have a problem or atleast how bad a problem is. While this doesn't excuse the person from the debt, it should not be considered deceptive or sneaky.

While I agree this is something valid to bring up, I don't think it should arouse the level of suspicion that many of the readers are raising. Everyone has their blemishes. This guy's happens to be large debt which on this site, is a serious matter.


I agree that it's tough to know exactly when to share information about this. Personal finances are one of the biggest things we don't share with the rest of the world.

However, waiting until after being engaged is, in my opinion, too late. Making the decision to share the rest of your lives with each other should including knowing where your spouce to be stands on the important things in life, and how you handle money is one of those. Hopefully she found out about his debts directly from him, which is more trustworthy than finding out from other sources.

I also agree that many debtors don't realize just how bad things are - it's one of the easiest ways to get in trouble. While it may not be sneaky, it does make you wonder just how well that person can work together with their spouse to plan for the future together, if there's trouble planning for yourself.

I'm sure the story is much more complicated than the one paragraph post. using just the information there though does raise enough causes for concern that slowing things down and working things out makes sense. Hopefully things work out for both of them and they can live "happily ever after". Better that than a marriage that starts out with a large doubt.

Lots of people who fall in love later in life choose not to marry because of complicated finances. Typically they both have lots of assets (or in this case debts) and often they are planning to either give or receive inheritances and they don't want to complicate things with lots of wills, trusts, attorneys, and potential lawsuits.

That said, it's fairly simple to keep your debts and assets separate once you marry, especially if you go into it knowing that's what you want to do. Obviously a pre-nup would do the trick for you and allow you to rest easy that in case of death/divorce you won't be forced to pay his debts.

Even without a pre-nup though, you will not assume his debts in most cases unless you add your name to the loan/account. Similiarly he will not assume your assets unless you comingle your accounts by adding his name to them. And inheritences always remain separate assets unless you add the money to a joint account.

But hey, if you're worried about it just have him sign a pre-nup. And make sure he knows your extra income will be going towards savings - not to paying off his debt or funding a lifestyle he can't afford.

Ryan, I wouldn't jump on a guy for asking this either. That's a lot of debt we're talking about.

Definitely talk to a lawyer if you think he's the guy you're like to be with (except for the debt part). As I understand it, debt he incurred before the marriage are his, not yours.

At the same time, it could have a real effect on your finances, especially if your salary goes to pay some of your debts.

For the relationship--do you know his values and why he got into all this debt? How do those values line up to yours? If he got into more debt, would that make you want to end the marriage? If so, what are the odds of his getting spousal support? How does he feel about the debt? How does he feel about your financial attitudes?

I think you're quite right to call it off until you've gathered more information, discussed it with him, figured out if your values line up, etc.

I married a guy deep in debt, but it was over 90% student loans and under 1% credit card (we paid that off in one fell swoop). His debt was pretty much from his pursuit of his life calling...which I also think is his life calling. So while the debt is sad and a burden at times, it's also something I was well aware of for years before the wedding and something that doesn't reflect poorly on his spending/self-control/values/etc.

Why get married at this age? What's the need? I don't see a need for marriage and hence no prenup. But if you get married a prenup and trust is in order.

Pre-nup, laywer, cpa. Well worth the time to get all that together to protect yourself up front.

Also someone else had a valid point. Why the need for marriage? You could easily just live together at that age.

You are a smart lady! I don't think it is all about pre-nups, lawyers, etc. Wasn't it Jiminy Cricket that sang "Always let your conscience be your guide"...

It seems like you already know what you need to know. It's not about slamming him or anything - he obviously has some great qualities or you would not be with him - If I think of just facts, here is what comes to mind:

Surveys say that money is the single biggest issue that married couples have. No need to knowingly walk into a minefield.

For whatever reasons, he has not chosen to protect his good name, his financial security, and his retirement plan thus far. If he wanted to, he simply would have. Don't YOU become his retirement plan or his financial security.

His bad habits may indeed change! It can't be for you though. The bad habits are not going to magically stop on your wedding day.

You already divorced him once, for whatever reasons. Take your time - if he is in it for the right reasons, he won't go anywhere!

If nothing else, hedge your bets and skip the wedding until after you gain the inheritance - acquire the asset before the "liability" (i.e. marriage), not during.

Good luck to you!

The answer to all your questions is: it depends on the combination of what state you live in and how well your pre-nup is worded.

If you have no pre-nup, you are subject to the laws of your state. Many states allow debtors to collect pre-marriage debt and/or post-marriage debt from joint marriage assets including income. These laws can change if you move to a different state, so even if you find a way through state A's laws, you could be in trouble if you get transferred.

If you have a pre-nup, you can spell out exactly which of your assets are not allowed to be touched by pre-marriage debt, exactly which are not to be touched by post-marriage debt, whether your annual income is off-limits, and whether your inheritance is off-limits. These stipulations, *which you should decide on together with your future husband*, will hold no matter where in the US you live.

I highly recommend that before you spend money on a lawyer, you check out "Prenuptial Agreements: How to Write a Fair & Lasting Contract" by Nolo Press from your local library (or buy it; it's a good value). This book will explain what can and can't be done with a prenup and save you a lot of time before you plop down a retainer for a lawyer. (If you go the pre-nup route you will need a lawyer eventually, but you can do a lot of the initial work on your own and save money.)

A previous commenter alluded to a link between pre-nups and divorces. You'll have to evaluate for yourself if you think this is a danger. Me, I think that if the two of you sit down and craft the prenup together, it can lead to some very helpful and necessary conversations about how you will handle your money as a married couple. Considering that the major reason most couples argue is finances, you may be *helping* your relationship with this process.

Also, given the risk you might be facing with debtors, I'd say you can't afford not to have one.

One last thing: while a properly-crafted prenup can in fact legally keep your assets from being targeted by debtors, it will not stop them from trying. They can't seize your money, but they can accept anything you offer them - and many debt collection agencies will hound you just as ruthlessly as they hound him in hopes that you'll crack and pay off some of the debt to get some peace. I was not at all prepared for that part.

I would just like to take a moment to thank each and everyone of you for taking the time to write me your comments. ALL of you have been helpful, and I value all of your opinions. Yes, George, even yours. You were not a jerk at all in my opinion. Thank you all of you!!!!

Thanks, been there. That's very sane, balanced advice.

And George, I'm glad there was no offense taken because I loved the Jane Austin reference.

I would absolutely not marry him. It sounds as if he was NOT very honest about this debt from the getgo. This has a Judge Judy on steroids feel to it. I think I would enjoy him for his company and keep the legal entanglements separate--at least until he pays off his debts by himself. A gentleman would prepare himself for marriage by being an independent, solvent human being--not someone who is ready to sponge off a lady from day one.

I hope this matter can be thought through unemotionally. Most times emotional factors override others and is realised when it is a little too late.

Looks like the lady had gotten all the advise she needs.

Now she has to evaluate them and do what she thinks is the right thing.

I don't think anyone has said this, but there was a post I recently read asking if you could "inherit" debt and according to everything posted on that, as long as you are not co-signed on the loan, you are not personally responsible for the debt. So basically, if your husband to be died or otherwise could not pay his debts, I don't believe you would personally be responsible. I would consult with a lawyer to be certain though.

That said, there may be pressure for you to help your husband out even if you had no hand in creating the debt. I would suggest having him prove to you that he is going to stop using credit and is willing to make a plan to pay down his debt. If he can do a good job for a year, then go on with the wedding plans.

Moving in and not marrying may sound like the perfect "have your cake and eat it too," but unfortunately it is not very sensible. Primarily, depending on your beliefs, marriage may be the only appropriate "God-approved" way to take this relationship deeper (and one's religious beliefs will affect the final "content" factor of most of our choices). However, please not that even if religion is dismissed as a reason for marriage, the very questions of "why marriage" highlights the reason why it is necessary. It is clear that the writer wants deeper intimacy and commitment. Moving in, while it may seem to provide both, in this situation would be the very epitome of non commitment, the exact opposite of what is desired. Intimacy is developed as we work through life's crisis together. Unless you are willing to tie up your finances with his troubled finances, you will have a hard time achieving the happiness that you seek. Suppose you find a legal way to keep your finances completely free of his mess, can you live happily as he continues to suffer through his mess? If you truly love him, his suffering (financial or otherwise) will make you sad at best, or make you suffer, at worst. In my mind, if you love him and want this to work out, set out a plan in which the debt will be reduced to an acceptable limit (set by you), and then take the plunge, come what may!!! Yes, that is tough from a purely financial or pragmatic point of view, but was it not the Beatles who said, "all you need is love?" :) If you really wish to be happy in this relationship, in my opinion, this would be the best approach. A half-hearted approach will give you at best, half-hearted happiness.

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