Pay Dirt is Slate’s money advice column. Have a question? Send it to Athena and Elizabeth here. (It’s anonymous!)
Dear Pay Dirt,
I’m a widower in my late 70s with no children. I’m dating a wonderful woman in her early 60s, “Lorraine,” who was widowed about four years ago. Her first husband left her nothing, and she’s still working a menial job, barely getting by. Left to her own devices, she will never be able to retire.
I would like to marry Lorraine, spend my last years with her, and enable her to live the rest of her life in the ease that she’s earned. But I don’t want to do the same for her daughter, “Betty.” Betty is 32, has never moved out of Lorraine’s home, never dated, and has worked only a few short-term part-time jobs, which she always quit when they got too hard. For the last few years, she’s done literally nothing but sit in her room, watch TV, play video games, and eat.
Lorraine still does her laundry, makes all her meals for her, etc. Betty has no physical or mental disabilities—she’s a bright young lady who could easily have gone to college if she’d cared to. She’s just spoiled, lazy, selfish, and stubborn. When I try to talk to Lorraine about her, she just says Betty has always been “very sensitive” and she and her husband could never bear to force her to do anything. Lorraine knows Betty does not have a good life but feels powerless at this point to make her change.
I would be willing to rent a small apartment for Betty just so I don’t have to share my house with her, but I don’t want to pay a penny on her behalf after my death. I want to leave my assets to a trust that will pay all of Lorraine’s expenses, but not her daughter’s, and will bar her from giving Betty any of my former money, or allowing her to move into any former property of mine or property purchased or rented with my money. I honestly think this would be the best thing for Betty. Then upon Lorraine’s death, everything would go to charity. Is this possible? If so, do I need to tell Lorraine about this arrangement beforehand, or can I just avoid any resulting unpleasantness, write it into my will, and let her find out after my death?
—Not an Enabler
Dear Not an Enabler,
I’m not sure what is possible with a will or if you can even put the stipulations you want. For that, you need to consult an estate attorney. But that’s not the elephant in the room. It’s Betty and Lorraine’s relationship!
You may not be an enabler, but your sweet gal Lorraine is, and unfortunately, it sounds like Betty and Lorraine are a package deal. Not only are they a two for one, but they also sound very codependent. Codependency is an emotional and behavioral condition that affects someone’s ability to have what’s considered a healthy relationship—it’s a “relationship addiction.” You will do whatever you can (aka enabling) so that person doesn’t leave you. I don’t think Betty is going anywhere, but it sounds like Lorraine and her first hubby feared it, and as a result, voilà!
It’s a hard pattern to break, but you can help Lorraine try. And regardless, I don’t think it’s healthy to “avoid the resulting unpleasantness” and continue avoid the issue. Talk to Lorraine. Calmly tell her how much this dynamic frustrates you. Get her a copy of Codependent No More by Melody Beattle and ask her to read it and discuss it with you.* This book was life-changing for me, and it may help open her eyes as to how she’s really doing a disservice to Betty. Offer to attend a CODA meeting together. I hope you can help her move in the right direction, but if she refuses, you’ll have to decide whether it’s worth putting up with Betty to spend your days with Lorraine.
Dear Pay Dirt,
My mother willed her house to my sister and me. I told my sister I couldn’t afford the taxes and insurance on the property and that I wanted to sell it. She plans to move into the house next year (four years after Mama died) and has paid the taxes but not the insurance. When she does move in, wouldn’t it be fair for her to pay me rent or buy me out?
—What to Do With Half a House?
Dear Half a House,
Inheriting property with a sibling can be tricky. You don’t say whether you’ve had an extended conversation with her about this, so that should be your first step: Ask her to buy you out, or tell her how much you think is fair for rent each month (or whatever arrangement you prefer). If she refuses, there are two other options I would recommend, and both require an estate lawyer.
First, you can ask to have your name taken off of the house. This way you are free of all liability and can walk away without any financial obligations. You won’t receive any compensation, as you are literally giving the house away, but you will get the relief of being done with it, and it’ll likely keep your relationship civil.
The second option is to file what is called a partition action, which forces the sale of a home you co-own when the other party doesn’t want to sell. If you go this route, you can still settle out of court, and your sister can buy you out of your share before the lawsuit moves forward. I suspect this option might damage your relationship, so if staying friendly is important to you, that’s something to weigh. But would it be fair for her to pay you rent? Sure. Would her buying you out so you don’t have to chase her down every month for a payment or worry about liability and maintenance be better? Absolutely.
Dear Pay Dirt,
I served in the Army and was medically retired with chronic pain and PTSD. I’ve tried to work since then, but have struggled to. (I actually just got fired from my latest job because my employer was unable to offer me accommodations.) Thankfully, I do get a monthly check from the VA, which I am able to use for immediate necessities. It’s about $2,500. My problem is that it just isn’t enough. I am never able to put any away in savings. I live with my parents in a very expensive city but spend a lot of money on medical care and old debts. I feel completely lost and overwhelmed. What do I do?
Hold up. You were fired because of a disability?!?! Firing someone with a disability because you are unable to accommodate them is illegal in many situations. The Americans With Disabilities Act states that unless you can prove your company has a hardship, you must make accommodations for employees with a disability. I would seek out legal assistance if that fits with your case to see if you can get your job back, or at least see if you are available to receive compensation for wrongful termination.
As for your finances, I would see if you qualify for Medicaid as a veteran. This will cover additional health expenses without the red tape of having to deal with a VA hospital, and alleviate some of your expenses. I would also make a list of your old debts and start calling to see if the companies will work with you by allowing you to pay off your accounts with lump sums, instead of making payments. Debt collectors really just want their money, and getting a lesser amount is better than no amount. It might also be worth your time to contact local and national veterans’ groups that help with job-searching, finances, PTSD, or other issues. They may know of options and resources that others don’t. I hope these things can create some wiggle room to help you.
Dear Pay Dirt,
For the past three years, my partner and I have done everything under the sun to save money and resolve our debts: moved in with parents, aggressively paid all debts, got a crack accountant, all while starting a business and raising a child. It has paid off—we are nearly debt-free, with one last bill being paid down. Bigger moves are now possible for us, thanks to the aggressive work we put into making our business stable. But now that things are evening out, I feel myself becoming obsessive over our finances. I’m checking our accounts multiple times a day, monitoring every purchase, anxiously awaiting payments I know are incoming. I feel it’s spiraling into an unhealthy obsession with knowing where every dollar is going. Is there a way to develop a healthier relationship with our finances?
—Blessed, Obsessed, and Stressed
Congratulations on all of your hard work and financial success! When we are suddenly thriving instead of just surviving, it can definitely be scary and overwhelming, which can lead to you become more obsessed with your finances. I would recommend talking to a mental health professional, as consistently checking your accounts can be a sign of something deeper, such as an anxiety disorder or obsessive compulsive disorder. And it sounds like this is majorly interrupting your life. A psychologist or psychiatrist can help you find a diagnosis, if one is needed, and determine how you can go about having a healthier relationship with your finances. Even a few sessions with a therapist might help you talk through some of your obsessions and fears and give you the tools to manage them. (Finding a therapist can be difficult, but there are more options available these days.) Before then, you can try to limit yourself to one account peek per day, or check in with your accountant to confirm you’re on the right track. Good luck.
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I own a 10-year-old sports car that I love. My family sometimes jokingly call it my second child. My husband has a new SUV. Soon my husband will be leaving for a temporary, eight-month assignment abroad. We’ve made a deal with our 16-year-old son that he can drive the SUV for those eight months as long as he pays the car insurance. All three of us are happy with this deal. The problem? Our families can’t believe our teen is getting to use the new car. Is our arrangement crazy?
Correction, Aug. 17, 2021: This article originally misspelled Melody Beattle’s last name.