Q. I imagine the death of a husband in a patriarchal (polygamous) family must be ten times more devastating than in a monogamous one. What happens to his family? What about the division of assets?
This is indeed a most sober question and one that modern patriarchal Christians/Messianics ought to be asking but aren't. There are many, many problems to consider. For one thing, since polygynous marriages aren't recognised in the West there is an ENORMOUS problem with inheritance rights. If the patriarch has kept his polygyny secret and there is no record that he is the biological father of any of his children, then his 'children' will not be recognised by the state as such. The result could be financial devastation for widows and children. If he is 'officially' married to his first wife, and she decides to take the whole inheritance, then there will be nothing to stop her. (For many first wives, who have just 'gone along' with the principle, this might be the ultimate revenge against her husband and/or other wives).
No, these are most serious questions. The responsible patriarch will either wish to set up each of his wives up financially independently before he dies (if he is wealthy enough) or will want to make some sort of legal statement in the presence of a lawyer/attorney ensuring that the paternity of all his children is clearly stated. That way widows will have some sort of legal standing and claim upon the husband's estate.
The death of any loved one is a tragedy but it is doubly (or triply) so when the husband of several wives dies. Unless you believe like us in eternal marriage, the death of the man means also the death of the plural family - the wives aren't 'sister-wives' any more because what made them so is no longer in the world of the living. True, special bonds will have formed, but what is to keep them together any longer? And could they survive economically?
Those who do not believe in eternal marriage would likely start looking around for replacement husbands and, if they're lucky, a husband to marry all of them.
If you are one of those families that lives in one big house then more than likely that house will have to be sold and there is the very real question of family members becoming homeless.
As believers in Holy Echad Marriage (HEM) we perhaps have a rather different perspective on this issue than those who are not for we have always had our vision focussed on the eternities. We conceive of our family as one indissoluable unit. As far as I know none of my wives would wish to marry again though they would have the freedom to contract 'until death do us part' marriages if they wished. This will be an especially hard question for the younger wives who have many years ahead of them still.
If there is poverty in a plural family and the husband dies then the future must surely be bleak for the wives without Yahweh's intervention. As a communal people, members of the Chavurat Bekorot would have United Order rights after a patriarch's death and would not therefore find themselves abandoned in the world. Prospective patriarchs should soberly think about these things before entering the principle, especially if they do not belong to an Order as we do that makes provision for taking care of widows.