Laura Roser’s Interview with Beginners Guide to Purposeful Prenups co-author, Emily Bouchard
LR: Do you believe prenups drive an unnecessary wedge between the couple getting married?
EB: I can say without a doubt that how a prenup is initiated and negotiated can either strengthen a marriage and family relationships or can destroy them.
Since 2004, I have had the distinct honor to interview hundreds of people who are members of families who are deliberately working together to create a lasting family legacy that will maximize the blessings, while minimizing the burdens, associated with having accumulated significant financial wealth.
The most painful memories related to me in those interviews have been from in-laws about their experience with the prenup process.
Both men and women discussed the hurtful things said to them 10, 20, or even 30 years prior. The protection around their hearts was palpable, and their eyes would fill with tears, as they spoke of the lasting pain associated with their prenup process and their subsequent relationship with their in-laws. They described how every time they were with their partner’s parents, they would still feel stabs of pain, hurt, anger, and bitterness at being treated during the prenup negotiations in ways that varied from disrespectful to downright mean and hateful.
When an engagement is tainted by how the prenup is initiated and negotiated, a couple can find the foundation of their marriage beginning to crack before the wedding.
LR: Who and what are being protected? What are some unintended costs?
EB: When the approach to the prenup is about protecting the assets of the person from a wealthy family, the future in-law experiences that they are seen as someone their beloved needs to be protected from – and not someone with their best interests at heart.
The unintended legacy often produced in these families is that, while the financial assets may have been protected, the family harmony becomes largely artificial. The grandparents do not get to have the level of interaction and engagement with their grandchildren that they had hoped for, as the in-laws tend to follow the grandparents’ example by protecting the grandchildren from their grandparents. The legacy of fear, protection, and passing on hurt and distrust takes root and had lasting repercussions in many of families I interviewed.
LR: Tell us about the birth of Purposeful Prenups.
EB: I began to explore what else might be possible. How could this important conversation be handled differently?
I started doing research about how to shift this experience right from the start, so that couples could be spared this unnecessary hurt, and families could experience a lasting legacy of greater harmony and genuine care and warmth across generations.
When I co-authored Estate Planning for the Blended Family with former estate planning attorney, L. Paul Hood, Jr, we wanted to empower couples who were partnering for the second or third time, so that they could effectively have money conversations about the future. We wrote about key elements from my research in the Communications Strategies chapter, giving guidelines and recommendations for how to discuss the emotionally loaded aspects of planning in ways that could strengthen a union.
In 2013, Paul and I presented our approach to “Purposeful Prenups” at the Purposeful Planning Institute’s annual conference in Denver. We received confirmation from advisors from across the USA and Canada that they too were aware of the devastating impact prenups could have on a couple and the extended family if handled poorly.
LR: What is a “purposeful” prenup and how is it different than a regular one?
EB: Most couples don’t realize that the moment they are married, they have entered into a legal contract that already has a prenup. Whatever state you live in has determined for you what will happen to your assets should you divorce, or become disabled, or when one of you dies. A purposeful approach to your prenuptial agreement (or postnup for those who are already married, or cohabitation agreement for those who do not intend to marry) provides couples with a framework to create a safe, honoring, and respectful space when discussing emotionally loaded topics such as death, disability, divorce, and money.
Couples who approach their prenup topics in a purposeful way develop new communication skills, with the added benefit of also building their confidence that they can handle anything that the future might bring.
As a couple strategically has prenup conversations, they get to find out what motivates each other, what their hopes and dreams are for the future, and what their true expectations are for their life together. And, in some instances, they may discover that their goals and expectations are incompatible and choose not to marry – saving themselves a great deal of heartache, pain, and cost in the future.
Since most people don’t know how to talk about money well, they tend to avoid talking about it. When people don’t feel comfortable speaking up about how they really think and feel about money, their conversations only scratch the surface and don’t get to what’s really going on underneath. Unfortunately, this causes a lot of mischief in marriages. Conflict about money is the number one stressor for the majority of couples and is cited as the leading cause for divorce. Money itself is not the issue. It is people’s inability to talk easily, openly, and honestly with each other about money that causes the ongoing conflict.
Using a prenup to support couples in thinking through some of the most challenging aspects of life is one of the most empowering things you can do.
LR: What are the advantages of having a prenup in building a family legacy?
EB: One of the most common concerns I hear from parents and grandparents who are intentionally preparing their beneficiaries for the responsibilities that come with having significant financial resources is that they don’t want money to ruin their loved ones’ lives. They don’t want to rob them of their motivation to work. They want their children and grandchildren to be mindful about the choices they make with the money and want their family values to be connected to the family wealth in meaningful ways.
When a prenup becomes part of a values-based, family-centered conversation that includes in-laws as part of the family, then the family’s legacy can progress into one where everyone has the capacity to talk respectfully, openly, and in healthy, honoring ways about the true net worth everyone brings to the family. The old paradigm of protection shifts into one of cultivating authentic trust, open communication, and responsible practices and standards when it comes to money.
The remarkable and surprising outcome of approaching prenups from a win/win model is that family relationships often become stronger and more enjoyable, and future generations are raised by parents who are comfortable – and not conflicted – when talking about money. This is one of the greatest legacies you can strive for, as it means happier, healthier marriages now and for generations to come.
For more articles on legacy planning, click here to subscribe to Legacy Arts Magazine.
Emily Bouchard, Managing Partner, Wealth Legacy Group, has worked with wealthy families and couples since 2004 and has facilitated over 140 family meetings. She is passionate about doing what she can to strengthen family relationships and decrease unnecessary heartache, especially when it comes to the emotions that surround money and legacy. Emily has been featured in media including The Today Show and CNN, Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times. To learn more, visit www.wealthlegacygroup.net and www.purposefulprenups.com.