At 92 years of age, A.E. Hotchner has lots of stories to tell. Thankfully, the novelist, biographer, playwright, and co-founder of Newman's Own with pal Paul Newman, hasn't let anything slow him down. His newest work, O.J. in the Morning, G&T at Night: Spirited Dispatches on Aging with Joie de Vivre, is a collection of charming, witty, and sometimes poignant essays describing his reflections on the aging process.
The following is an exclusive excerpt from his new book. In this chapter, Hotchner addresses the "chronologically challenged" who fall in love and get married, with little regard for the ramifications of a messy break-up later on.
So what's his solution for these dicey situations? Read on to find out.
*** Exclusive Excerpt from A.E. Hotchner's new book:
O.J. in the Morning, G&T at Night ***
You may think that upon reaching the age of chronological enlightenment, having made their peace with past marital tribulations, like divorce and spousal loss, super seniors would abide their placid status. But no, like many other nonagenarians, he eighty-nine, she ninety, or visa-versa, they are pledging themselves to holy matrimony at a festive ceremony arranged at the assisted living facility where they met and fell in love.
Marriage among the chronologically challenged has steadily increased, leaving gerontologists to ponder why seniors who fall in love, once content simply to live together, are now stapling themselves to a marriage license with all its myriad implications for property ownership, will provisions, taxes, life insurance, and all the rest. Your house or mine? Your car or my car or both? Who drives? Whose furniture? A budget? Assets? Expenses? Stocks, bonds, etcetera, shared or separate?
Subscribers to the Internet’s SeniorPeopleMeet.com, which claims over 700,000 active members in the upper ages, find what the web site calls their “mature match,” and often, ignoring the advice of their children, obtain marriage licenses and exchange rings, the children having to cope with the specter of their eighty-nine-year-old father with a rose pinned to his lapel, exchanging vows with a slightly older lady with a gardenia corsage on her wrist. The children had been looking after pop since mom passed on, but now they have been pushed aside, faced with having to assimilate their new supergenarian mother-in-law into their married lives. They are also privately concerned about how pop’s acquisition of this mother-in-law will affect their inheritances.
All these problems are minor, however, compared to the ones that spring up when the newlyweds, set in their ways, find that the demands of matrimony are more than they can handle. Compromise does not come easily to an 89-year-old who has been living alone for ten years. The senior couple may solve their split amicably, but more often than not, heated squabbles force the children back into action, sometimes with lawyers, his children doing battle with her children.
That’s the situation my friend, Stuart, had to face. “At the beginning of his marriage, we didn’t see Dad very often, but then he started to come around more frequently, without her, and less than a year into his marriage, he moved out of the apartment, which had been hers. Dad had given up his condo.
“When it came to divvying up their assets, it was a nightmare, each one claiming the things the other one claimed. Her children thought he was out of line and hired a lawyer, and we felt the same way and hired our own lawyer. It was the items they had acquired together that caused the rumble. Like, Annie, the Siamese kitten they had obtained from the local pet store, the dining room set, the wedding presents.
“Dad got depressed and isolated himself in a rented studio. I almost got into a fistfight with one of her sons. My sisters and my wife had done everything we could to stop him from marrying her, but now we had to mop up the nasty consequences. Dad’s now living with us.”
Attorney Ed Weidenfeld, a veteran of these dustups, says, “These court battles go on interminably and turn into a psychodrama that is a Who did Daddy love most? Me or the wicked witch he married after mother? I’ve seen kids absolutely devastated by not having expectations met.”
From personal experience I know what he means. Back in my brief lawyer days, I encountered a few combative heirs, like the one who was incensed that Daddy had willed to his late-acquired wife that he had promised to her.
“I can’t believe he left her the house.”
“The will is quite specific that— ”
“The will! There was—what do you call it?”
“You’re damn right! Lots of undue influence. He would never in a million years have left anything to that bitch.”
“I think it would be best if we could discuss this—”
“He was 91-years-old—can’t you claim he wasn’t in his right mind? He must have been crazy leaving the house to an old bitch like that. She’s what? 88? Now she was it in her will. So how long will she last? She wheezes. A year maybe. Then it goes to her loathsome son. My house! The son’ll sleep in my bed with that snaggle-toothed wife of his!”
“But you haven’t lived in that house for 20—”
“But I would have if he’d have left it to me. That’s what he always said. ‘Wizzy-woozums, you and your kids will be living here some day,’ Hah!”
“She’ll still be your step-mother, you know. You can visit—”
“That’ll be the day!”
“Your dad did leave you the Mercedes and the—”
“She has bad breath.”
“…and she has a filthy temper. She once called me a spoiled brat. Brat! I’m 60 years old, to be treated like this! Daddy would never in his right mind leave the house to an old bitch with false teeth. How many times he said, ‘Wizzy-woozums, you and your kids—’ ”
“You already said that.”
“Then, okay, gear up! Let’s sue her ass off! He was mentally, uh, didn’t know what he was doing.”
“That would be hard to prove.”
“Why? Their word—oh, that greedy son of hers and that kvetching wife of his!—against mine.”
“Just before his heart attack, your father had made a brilliant speech before the Rotary Club. It would be hard to prove he was of unsound mind.”
“I’m telling you now, I’m gonna burn the house down before she gets to move in.”
“All right. I just want you to know, I don’t handle arson cases.”
The dissolution may be especially combative when one of the spouses is considerably older than the other, as was the case, for example, when the marriage of 27-year-old Anna Nicole Smith, a curvaceous Marilyn Monroe look-alike, to an 89-year-old oil tycoon, J. Howard Marshall II, came to an abrupt end. Anna Nicole was a topless dancer in a strip club where she caught the eye of Marshall, the owner of the Great Northern Oil Company. They married in 1994 and he died a year later, indicating that a year of Anna Nicole in the marital bed was a bit more than J. Howard could handle. His demise precipitated a fierce battle between Anna Nicole and her stepson, E. Pierce Marshall.
A California court awarded Anna $474 million but that award was overturned on appeal; the court, however, granted her the right to a new trial. But the untimely death of the stepson at age 67 complicated the lawsuit that was further complicated by the precipitous death of Anna Nicole at age 37, probably ending the litigation.
It is not only sugar daddies who get into this kind of tangle, but there are also sugar mommies who marry much younger men who sometimes have grandmothers younger than their bride. These marriages may run into trouble when the young husband wants to be a father but the “mature” wife can no longer oblige.
I am muddying these marital waters in order to demonstrate that there is a raft that can keep some divorcing seniors afloat while others around them are sinking. The name of the raft is: PRENUPTIAL. Before the lapel rose and the wrist gardenia, super seniors should write down what is relevant about their assets, children, trusts, those concerns unique to the elderly. There are prenups that even specify finite details like who does the cooking, who cleans up, his ration of sports on television, who pays the bills, how frequently they have sex (once a month is popular), who does the shopping, who goes to the cleaners.
There are lawyers who specialize in drafting prenups for seniors and you can find them on the Internet where they have posted lengthy articles about prenuptials. To be sure a prenup is properly prepared it is probably best to consult one of these lawyers who specialize in family law.
J. Howard could have protected his estate from its tribulations with Anna Nicole if he had executed a prenup that provided terms based on the length of their marriage. Matrimonial lawyers have a standard schedule that determines what the wealthier spouse has to pay from his/her individual bank account:
Marriage of less than one year: $100,000,
Marriage of more than one but less than two years: $200,000,
Marriage of more than two years: $300,000.
Of course these amounts are adjustable, but depending on whether the young spouse-to-be agrees or refuses to sign on, it is a solid clue as to whether he/she is marrying for love or for money. This ruling by the Florida Court of Appeals demonstrates how a signed prenup has its merits:
This appeal evolves from the divorce of an elderly, wealthy furniture magnate after less than three years of marriage to his much younger wife. We have no quarrel with the conclusion of the trial judge that the wife is not entitled to a $150,000 Rolls-Royce. She will just have to be content with her Cadillac, gifts of jewelry in excess of $150,000 and the $700,000 in cash bestowed on her by the prenuptial agreement.
So, a final word to senior spouses-to-be: Don’t neglect to put your Rolls-Royce in your prenup.
Although the prenup is an effective catch basin for identifying who owns what before the marital knot gets tied, it does not encompass what the superannuated couple acquires after they are Mr. and Mrs., and that’s what leads to all the squabbling if the late-blooming union wilts. I think it’s unfortunate that divvying up these mutually acquired possessions is taken seriously, with families and lawyers becoming involved.
Why not solve the dissolution in the same light-hearted way the couple plighted their troth? Why not a wheel of fortune that puts all the disputed possessions in the categories of the wheel? The disillusioned couple take turns spinning the wheel, and the spinner gets what the wheel stops on. Husband’s spin lands on the new toaster-oven, that’s his. The wife’s spin hits the DVD player, it goes with her.
To paraphrase a bit, life is a carnival, dear chum, we took a chance marrying at 88, why not a wheel of chance when we’re dividing up at 90?
Fortunately, most often the marriage of the two old parties succeeds and they have a fine time during their carnival years, playing life’s wheel of fortune together.
Check out more of A.E. Hotchner's spirited dispatches on aging with joie de vivre in his new book, O.J. in the Morning, G&T at Night. Now available for pre-order on Amazon, B&N, iTunes, and other retailers!
Author image courtesy of Wikipedia