Dear Penny: Should I Change My Kids’ Inheritance for My Online Girlfriend?

An older couple go on a date. They are sharing a milkshake.
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Dear Penny,

I am 78, have been married twice and have been corresponding with a 53-year-old lady in Shenzhen, China, who is a shop owner. She gets a government pension but does not have much in the way of assets. She is divorced (at least once), no children. She is not fluent in English. Our letters are translated.

I have invited her to visit me in the USA and to cover all incurred costs. I have a feeling when we meet we may fall in love. I wouldn’t marry without a prenuptial agreement. I would want the agreement to be also in Chinese and have her consult a Chinese-speaking attorney.

I have two grown children, ages 55 and 52. My daughter (52) is married and has a 12-year-old son. My son, 55, has never been married and has no children. He is in a 16-year committed relationship.

Both my children are financially stable and comfortable. I have a nest egg of about $13 million, invested mainly in index funds. I continue to fund a 529 college plan for my grandson that has sizable assets now. I still work part time. My questions concern two issues. 

  1. What would be a fair settlement in the event we divorce? I envision something like a 10-year vesting period. In other words, she would get half after five years, the full amount after 10. I thought a fair settlement after 10 years would be $8,000 a month (she would have to pay taxes on that amount). I want to be fair. Any terms would be negotiable. She doesn’t know about this and may counter with something quite different after meeting with a lawyer.
  2. What about death? In all probability, she would outlive me. I would like to leave $5 million to each of my two children. My son is the current executor. Options for my wife include $8,000 per month for life or a lump sum. If the balance stayed the same, she would get $3 million and my children would get $5 million each. Given her age, I don’t think it’s reasonable to ask her to work. What do you think is fair? I think my son favors no lump sum, but I want to do the right thing and acknowledge my son’s thinking may be unreasonable.

-Last Time Around

Dear Last Time,

You’ve never met this woman, yet you’re already thinking about how to provide for her in divorce or death. Your questions would be best posed to an attorney, as well as your own financial planner, given your substantial assets. But that’s beyond premature at this point.

Have you ever had a face-to-face conversation with your love interest via FaceTime or Zoom? I want to say this as gently as possible: Planning a future with someone you haven’t even met is a hallmark sign of an online romance scam.

Dear Penny

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Anyone can claim to be someone else using doctored or stolen photos. It’s also easy for scammers to gather information about you through Google and social media, then tailor their fake persona around what you want to hear.

A video chat is much harder for scammers to fake their way through compared with email or text. Scammers will often have endless excuses for why they can’t arrange a video chat. Or they’ll agree, but the lighting and sound will be poor, or their image will be frozen.

You could also try running her images through Google’s reverse image search. If you find the same image across several sites, you’re probably dealing with a scammer. Googling the text of the messages you’ve exchanged can also be revealing since scammers often recycle the romantic lines over and over.

If you’re still determined to meet after doing due diligence, ask the woman to send you her passport and any other necessary documentation. Then, you can book the plane ticket. Don’t send her money or share financial information, like your bank account number, under any circumstance. At worst, you’ll be out the cost of a plane ticket if she suddenly cancels — in which case, you need to run.

You sound extremely thoughtful, and you’ve clearly had financial success. Both of those things will make you a desirable partner. But I can’t help but be skeptical about this relationship. Even if the woman is exactly who she claims to be, the distance puts incredible pressure on you both to make things work. Rarely do first dates end in marriage.

Should you meet face to face, approach things with the healthy skepticism you should bring to any new relationship. If things don’t work out with this woman, try pursuing potential partners who live closer to you. Less distance means lower stakes. If you’re already drafting a prenup and revisions to your estate plan for someone you’ve never met, I’d say lowering the stakes is a step in the right direction.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].