Pay Dirt is Slate’s money advice column. Have a question? Send it to Athena and Elizabeth here. (It’s anonymous!)
Dear Pay Dirt,
We have two daughters. One was married, but after two years of marriage, her husband had the rug pulled out from under him and found out she had been having an affair for seven months. We dearly loved our son-in-law—a person couldn’t have asked for a better human being. He was totally devastated, as we all were. This daughter and I have always butted heads—we are like oil and water. I can’t say or do anything right, and she truly just does not like me. I am seriously considering changing my will to the one daughter 50 percent, the daughter who doesn’t like me 25 percent, and ex-son-in-law 25 percent. What are your thoughts?
—Not Sure What to Do
Dear Not Sure,
Wow, this was some tea I was not expecting this week!
It sounds like your ex-son-in-law isn’t the only one who’s devastated after this breakup. You grew to have a pseudo-son you became close to, only to have him ripped away through no fault of your own. It’s easier to cut people off when they are the bad guy, but in this situation, that role belongs to your own kin, which can be much more complicated.
You mention your daughter does not like you and that you’ve never gotten along with her. Does she know you feel this way? Have you played favorites without realizing it? Have you tried family counseling, or therapy for yourself? You say “we,” so what does your partner think of this situation and your proposed change? How do you think it would affect the relationship between your daughters? Would you want to tell everyone about the changes, or let them find out after you’re gone?
You can absolutely change your will, but you should be prepared for it to blow up your family. If you decide to go for it, you’ll want to talk to an estate attorney to ensure you have the proper paperwork amended and refiled. You could also opt for a living trust instead. Living trusts do not go through probate, like a will, and therefore are kept private.
At the end of the day, I want you to be confident in your decision. Is there anything you can do to include your son-in-law without punishing your daughter? Could you leave him a life insurance policy instead, or a set amount of money? There will be drama if you go forward with your plan, and you may already be prepared to deal with it. But I would think that you’d prefer whatever time you have left (many years, I hope) to be peaceful.
Dear Pay Dirt,
How do I deal with my downfall? I used to make $27 an hour. I was generous with my girlfriend, never asking for money back. Now that I’m making way less ($15 an hour), she acts like I’m a burden on her. She gets mad, but I know she has almost $2,000 in the bank and expects me to still give her almost all my money to help with the bills. I feel like a bum, and she keeps acting as if I’m trying to get one over on her, even though I ask her for nothing and go without a lot.
I finally got my hair done for the first time in over a year, and she accused me of spending unnecessary money. It makes me feel like she was using me when I was wealthy, and she’s only hanging on until I can get back to where I was. When I try to talk to her, I’m always met with anger and hostility, and I have to hear how she’s doing all of this on her own, no matter how much money I’m giving her. It makes me feel like nothings ever good enough. Do you think she’s using me and waiting until I can start back making more money and splurging on her like I used to?
I don’t think your girlfriend is using you. You seem to suggest you shouldn’t have to pay your share of expenses because she has $2,000 in her savings account, but her emergency fund isn’t there to cover your half of the bills. Unless otherwise discussed, you aren’t off the hook despite a loss in income. This would explain why she feels she is “doing it on her own,” despite you giving her money. (And you should never give gifts if you expect repayment later—that’s a loan, not a gift.)
If that’s the case, I think you need to work on improving your financial situation. You could ask your girlfriend to adjust how you split bills based on your new wage. I’d also recommend a budgeting app to track your income and spending, so you know where your money goes. Mint, Goodbudget, and Pocketguard are all great apps for getting started. In addition, you could find a side hustle that will help in the short term. Ride shares, dog-walking, or a second job could ease some of the stress.
However, I am worried that this relationship isn’t healthy. Even if it’s not financial abuse, it sounds like there’s a lot of tension and you don’t see eye to eye on money. That’s not good. If you don’t feel you can work through this with your girlfriend, it might be time to move on.
Dear Pay Dirt,
My wife and I are in our late 50s and have been married for eight years (second marriage for both). We have not combined finances. I am retired from a lucrative profession and have a net worth in the millions. My wife is still working (her choice). I pay all our joint bills—mortgage, insurance, cars, groceries, vacations, entertainment, etc.—and am happy to do so. My wife comes from very modest means and did not go to college. She is, however, an extremely hard worker and currently makes a very reasonable income (high five figures). I’ve let her know that she can stop working whenever she wants and I will support us. Despite this, she has a great deal of anxiety about money issues and is not prepared to be completely financially dependent on me. Any thoughts as to what I can do to help her with this?
Dear Money Concerns,
This anxiety could have little or nothing to do with you. Every time a woman leaves the workforce, she loses earning potential, and the pandemic has definitely hit women harder in these terms. She also may have had a bad financial experience in her first marriage, and she might be protecting herself. If she stops working, she could potentially be left with nothing. She might also feel wary of retiring if you have a prenuptial agreement in place protecting your assets. If she gives up her job and you two don’t work out, would she be able to support herself?
I think you have a couple of options. First, if you haven’t, set aside some time to talk about her money anxiety. Try not to persuade or pass judgment—just listen. This may take one conversation or several. Maybe she enjoys working. Maybe it’s fear from childhood or her first marriage. Maybe it’s something else. Your goal is to understand her hesitation.
Next, make a series of appointments to attend together. One would be with your financial planner to discuss the details of your accounts. You both could also meet with your estate attorney to go over your end-of-life documents. Both could help her gain a better understanding of your situation and what would happen to her if something should happen to you. If she doesn’t have access to your financial accounts, insurance policies, and real estate, you can add her and make sure she knows where the important documents live.
Another way to help her feel more secure is getting a postnuptial agreement. These agreements can be drawn for a variety of reasons, but you can have one that specifies you will take care of her financially no matter what. This legally binding document can empower her to leave the workforce if she wants, without being paranoid about taking a bigger hit down the road.
Dear Pay Dirt,
Our son’s girlfriend needs money for college, and my wife and I are happy to give her an interest-free loan, with the realization that we may not get our money back. (The amount is small from our perspective, but would help her graduate after some family financial setbacks.) Should the three of us (me, my wife, the girlfriend) sign a promissory note with general conditions for repayment (when payments would start, monthly amount) with the understanding they could be altered? Or should we wait to reach an agreement until after she graduates?
Relationships and goals both change, so it’s a good idea to have the promissory note written before you loan her any money. This will protect you and your wife while still helping her secure funding for college, and she will be acknowledging she has to pay back the loan, whatever the outcome of her education and relationship. The promissory note should detail identifying information for both parties entering it, the loan amount, stipulations in paying back the loan, and any collateral or insurance—even if you don’t ever expect her to repay you. You also should make it clear that she doesn’t have to stick with your son forever because of this loan, if things sour between them.
In addition, it’s a good idea to help her look into other funding for her college expenses. If she hasn’t yet, she should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which will help determine what federal and state aid she is eligible for, as well as directions for applying and then accepting the aid. Some employers also now offer free tuition to certain schools or tuition reimbursement. Your offer to her is generous, and you’re setting her up for financial success in the future. Good luck!
More Advice From Slate
Ten years ago, our son announced that he was using his engineering degree to enter a teacher-training program. I’m ashamed to share that my wife and I were horrified by this decision. We’d funded his college education with the expectation that he’d be financially independent, and we had no idea if he could make ends meet as a teacher. We begged him to reconsider. We didn’t want him to end up financially insecure the way my wife and I both were when we were kids. Despite our efforts, our son became a teacher and has blossomed in that field. He does not make a ton of money, but he certainly makes enough for a quiet life with his fiancée. The problem is that he continues to hold on to ill feelings towards us about the way we treated his decision back in 2011. How do we address and apologize for the hurt we’ve caused?