It used to be that parents were the ones counseling kids to have pre-nups and not be silly romantics. But these days with 500,000 new marriages a year between couples over the age of 65, it's more likely that it's the adult kids of divorce who are worrying about financial futures and now asking, insisting or even begging their parents to get pre-nups.
Take for example the case of Diana Mercer, the author of "Making Divorce Work," who's mediating her own family drama now. Her 82-year-old father is remarrying and she wants to protect an inheritance.
"We're going ballistic right now because most of his estate is because of my mother's money," she says. "We've bought the argument that he wants to take care of the wife who will take care of him in Indianapolis since we're in California. But I do have a problem with her son, who's a nogoodnik ending up with money and the house that should have been mine and my brother's."
Mercer is not alone in raising red flags about a parent's pending marriage.
In my own family, a close relative was marrying someone she reconnected with on Facebook after not seeing him for 40 years. Several siblings rang the alarm bell because health issues of the husband to be could drain their mother's resources if they got married. Even his family was concerned that by "acting like teenagers in love" they were jeopardizing healthcare options by marrying instead of living together. All realized a truce is better than friction.
But while that ended amicably, others are marching into lawyers' offices filled with anger over divided loyalties that may have been marinating over the years because of their parents' divorce decades ago.
"We've seen a rise in adult children injecting themselves into these discussions," confirms Marlene Eskind Moses, President of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. "They now want to be involved in pre-nup agreements, wills, trusts and health care directives that clearly states how money will be spent and then into who owns what possessions ranging from a house to porcelain dishes."
It's not a bad idea considering how petty these situations can get without them. And it will only get worse considering that with the economy in a meltdown, jobs scarcer and many having to pay alimony and child support of their own, these kids are as protective of these assets as a computer PIN code.
Because when a fight is launched, it often gets ugly. Especially if the adult child never lived with the new spouse or girlfriend or had a relationship with the stepsiblings.
The late Dennis Hopper's daughter Marin went after her stepmother Victoria Duffy and is trying to prevent her from getting a chunk of his estate, estimated at $40 million. Not only did Victoria Duffy have a child with Hopper but she was married to him for many years. Guess they're not going to be spending Thanksgiving together.
Brooke Astor's grandson Philip was miffed when his father Tony signed over his grandmother's estate to his wife Charlene which meant that the beloved Maine house could be left to her biological children instead of him. What happened? He then launched his fight for guardianship. Natch, Phillip and Dad aren't speaking.
Although the late businessman Lionel Pincus told his lawyers he hoped his longtime companion, Princess Firyal of Jordan, would be embraced as family by his two sons, once they became guardians of his personal needs, they tried to evict her from a $50 million duplex New York City apartment. In what became a public spat, they complained that she was wasting money on a $132,000 desk and a $750,000 pair of pottery horses when dad was ailing. They also said she had already been given millions and didn't deserve the apartment.
Firyal countered in Manhattan Municipal Court that the sons had praised her for caring for their dad but turned on her, "spitting out a hailstorm of lies in an attempt to portray me in a terrible light, to portray their father as having been for a decade a feeble old man who did not know his own wishes or what was best for himself and to portray themselves as caring and loving sons with no ulterior motives - financial or personal."
Since houses are often trigger points for adult kids of divorce who may have grown up in these homes - even though the stepparent may have lived there for decades - lawyers have devised clauses to help minimize the fighting.
The stepparent can live in the house for their natural life with a pre-decided allowance and then it gets returned to the biological children upon their death.
But some aren't convinced that even legal papers will be bulletproof.
Lily Royer, co-chair of the matrimonial and family law practice Moses & Singer is a stepmother who is preparing herself for later years. She lives at her new husband's New Jersey house with her two children from a previous marriage and has four stepchildren, two with whom she has a good relationship. She doesn't want her stepchildren to question whether she should "paint the kitchen blue or plant more flowers in my garden" in later years even with a life trust and is keeping an extra house that she is renting to prevent future problems.
"Even if you dot every I and cross every T, if kids are looking for a fight they will go into court and create problems," says Royer. "I've seen too many cases where the stepmother or stepfather says, 'I took care of their parent for so many years, why don't they see the value in it?' It's the reverse Cinderella story where the step kids go after the stepmom and her kids for the assets."
The issue really comes down to entitlement. Who can claim it? The elderly parent should be able to do whatever they want with their money - even if it is for a new wife or husband or stepchild. But love may intoxicate and impair judgment and shouldn't loyalty be to the family who have been around for decades? And does the adult kid really have the right to tell their parents not to get married to protect their inheritance?
"This is an emotional minefield that is yet to be sorted out because we're the first generation that has dealt with so many divorces," says Dr. Mark Banschick, author of "The Intelligent Divorce." "Families are splintered and so are resources."
Maybe the answer lies in what George Bernard Shaw advised so long ago, "One can be as romantic as you please about love - but you mustn't ever be romantic about money."
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