Welcome to Ask the Bills, where every two weeks Helaine Olen answers readers’ questions about their most nagging personal finance and financial etiquette dilemmas. Seeking advice on a money issue? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am the youngest and most successful person in my family. My wife and I have no children, so my will stipulates that my assets will go to my siblings or their children. One of my sisters is currently named as my executor, but she lives far away and is older enough that statistically we will unlikely outlive her. Then there are my nieces and nephew—whom I am discovering are somewhat horrible people. They are uneducated, racists, a few Trump supporters, and at least one flat-earther. We feel that giving any money to them would be a waste and would prefer to donate our estate to an educational foundation or something similar. We’re not talking about a vast fortune, but there’s enough that we can live a comfortable retirement with probably a decent chunk left over. How do we give away our money as we prefer, and what do we do about an executor, since it seems unfair to ask someone to do it whom we would effectively be cutting out of our will?
Trump supporters? Racists? A flat-earther? Your Thanksgivings must be a blast. But when it comes to your will, the moral and political character of your relatives is of no consequence: You are under no obligation to leave them a penny. But that doesn’t mean you should cut them off. A lot of us are riled up right now. I know a few people who are ending friendships over support for Hillary Clinton or (more likely) Donald Trump. Others are avoiding family gatherings so as to avoid engaging with relatives on the other side of the political divide. You might not believe it now, but someone can support Trump and not be a racist. Someone might believe the Earth is flat and otherwise be a lovely human being. You should sit on this one for a few months. Let the furor of the presidential race dissipate. Then make a decision about how you want to handle your estate.
But let’s say you think on this some more and still can’t abide the thought of leaving a thing to these people. Wendy Goffe, a Seattle estate planning attorney, says you should ask your own lawyer to suggest a professional fiduciary who can serve as executor of your will. This is something you might want to consider in any case: It’s generally not a good idea to name someone as executor whom you expect to die before you do. You should also either have the original current will and any other previous wills destroyed—or write “superseded” on them—and give them to your current attorney. This will obviate any legal complications should one of those racist flat-earthers turn up with a copy of an earlier will that just happens to benefit him or her.
Finally, remember it’s possible that an educational foundation may one day dedicate its funds to something you aren’t happy with either—not that you’ll know. We can’t control our money from beyond the grave, no matter how hard we try.
My boyfriend and I are in our late 20s and are planning to move in together. We’ve been doing the math regarding living expenses, and I think we could use an outside opinion. My boyfriend is currently renting a room in a house for $500 a month, while I have a lease on an apartment that I pay $1,500 for (including utilities) monthly. He’ll be moving in with me. Since I make twice as much as he does, we originally figured we would split rent and utilities proportionately, so $500 and $1,000. That doesn’t sit well with me, since I’ll be paying a third less every month, whereas he won’t have any reduction in his monthly expense. I suggested a split of $375 and $1,125, which is a 25 percent decrease in monthly cost for each of us. It’s not in proportion to what we make, but it seems fairer to me. What do you think? Should we go by the solid logic of paying proportional to our incomes, or should we both reduce our monthly payment by 25 percent?
I’ve spent a week trying to recall how I once handled this sort of dilemma, and I give up: After 25 years of marriage, I cannot remember, and neither can my husband. I’m telling you this to say that what’s most important is that the two of you agree on a plan, not that you attain some sort of optimal financial arrangement. What matters most is that it’s a joint decision.
All that said: Since you are asking me for my take, I would suggest keeping the payments proportional to income even though it means you’re going to get a rent break and he is not. You will, after all, likely be splitting other expenses in some sort of way, and this is a simple and clean division. You won’t want to renegotiate every restaurant meal, vacation, and so on. Better to make one rule and stick with it. This divide also makes it easier to readjust should the earnings situation change down the line. Finally, your generosity speaks well of you. I’d be more concerned about your long-term prospects if you felt you were being taken advantage of in some way.
For a long time I have put all my spending on a credit card, which I then pay off at the end of the month. This worked for me when I was in school and just out of it, as I made sure I broke even every month. But now I am more established and would like to be saving more. Most of the savings plans and apps I see assume that I am making purchases using a debit card and pulling from a checking account. And I can see how this would be better for me. I get paid only on the first of the month. So I could see my account getting lower as the month goes by and have a target for what I want to be left at the end of the month. I really feel like it would be motivating to me to see $500 left on the 20th and then decide if I need that extra trip to Starbucks or not. Somehow with credit, I don’t seem to be able to do the same math. So how do I make the transition from credit to debit? If I start using my cash to pay for the expenses next month, then I won’t have cash to pay off the expenses for last month. It feels like I am trapped in a cycle of never paying off last month and never getting ahead. If I could spend nothing for a month, that would be great and give me a month to reset, but I don’t see that happening. (And, no, I don’t expect a lump sum from a bonus or birthday gift, either.) Or do you have any tips or apps to suggest to help me save while I stick with my current credit card usage?
Do you pull off Band-Aids slowly or quickly? You need to think about your credit card usage the same way. Breaking the cycle won’t be easy, and there’s no magic app I can suggest to make it so. You can do it fast and painful, or you can do it over time. If you don’t believe you can muster the discipline to live the über-frugal life for a month—totally OK!— my advice would be to cut back by 10 to 20 percent and put the money in a savings account. Within a few months you’ll build up the sum that will allow you to both pay off your credit card bill and return to living your regular financial life with a cycle that works the way you want it. One other idea: Hold a tag sale, or simply sell some possessions that you no longer need. Even if you only earn a few dollars for the cause, the money will help motivate you for the task ahead. Good luck.