Pay Dirt is Slate’s money advice column. Have a question? Send it to Athena and Elizabeth here. (It’s anonymous!)
Dear Pay Dirt,
My husband lost his job a couple of years ago and now works with a friend who pays him under the table. I pay all the household bills with my income. He uses his for lunches out, cigarettes, gas for his motorcycle, and the $600 a month he owes in child support arrears to his ex-wife. I’ve told him he needs to start paying me something each month to help with our expenses. He just keeps mooching off me and acts like a responsibility-free teenager. I can’t kick him out because he won’t leave. I don’t want the hassle of a divorce. I am just tired of him taking such advantage of me. What is my best option?
—Married to the Mooch
Dear Married to the Mooch,
You absolutely can kick him out. Legally. The question is whether you really want to. You say you don’t want the hassle of a divorce, but in that case you may be opting for the hassle of having him mooch off of you indefinitely.
But maybe you love the guy, despite his mooching. I can’t tell from your letter. I don’t think you can make adults who believe they’re entitled to this kind of behavior change their ways just via conversations about responsibility. You’re going to have to set some hard boundaries with some actual consequences if he doesn’t contribute. And as far as I can tell, the only consequence that would matter to him is you kicking him out.
Another thing you should be aware of: If he’s being paid under the table and you have joint assets, you may be liable as a couple for the taxes he’s not paying. So this is not an ideal state of affairs, even if he was helping you out with expenses. You need to have a hard conversation with him about the fact that this is not sustainable, or you can decide for yourself that there’s no circumstance under which you’d kick him out and accept that you’ve chosen this state of affairs forever.
Dear Pay Dirt,
My spouse intends to leave her half of our house and her savings to her older sisters who constantly take financial advantage of her. She feels sorry for them because they spend every penny on themselves and complain about having no money, so my spouse buys them things, dinners, takes them on vacation without me. One divorced sister makes a six-figure salary, and the other has no children and chooses not to work to serve her husband while shopping and sunbathing almost every day. When she told me of her intentions of not leaving anything to me, her spouse of over 20 years, I was crushed and tried to talk with her, but she becomes furious and ends the conversation. I do not want to leave a single penny to her because she will just give it to her sisters. Would this be wrong?
—I Deserve Better
Dear I Deserve Better,
I think you have to separate your feelings about your spouse and your feelings about her sisters. Your spouse has a right to spend her own money, however deserving you think her sisters may or may not be. But I understand your frustration that you’re not being taken into consideration here. Your wife needs to understand why this feels hurtful to you, and it’s the kind of thing you may want to take up in marital counseling if she’s having trouble talking about it. It seems like there are some trust issues here that transcend the issue of your respective wills and feelings about your sisters-in-law.
(As a side note, I’m a little confused about the fact that your spouse intends to leave half of your house to her sisters, especially if you’re still living there. How would that work?)
That said, I don’t think you can really predict what your wife would do with your money in the event of your passing, and it probably depends on what your financial situations are if that happens. You may think you’re punishing her lazy, good-for-nothing sisters, but you may in fact be punishing your wife, and I doubt it will cause her to regret or reconsider her support for her sisters. So you should make sure you’ve worked out your own motivations and that you’re not just retaliating because you don’t like her plans. I don’t think you want that to be the last thing you leave your wife with if the worst happens.
Dear Pay Dirt,
My mother recently passed away from a three-year cancer battle. Only one of her six siblings, who all live 300 miles away, ever came to visit. They’ve all been absent as I planned her memorial, grieved, etc. I put together a death-bed video call, and one even had the audacity to ask me to reschedule until after work hours.
My mother asked me to take care of three of her sisters, but we never talked about specifics. She left most of her assets to my father, who has zero financial savvy, so I am managing for him. Her will specifies small cash bequeathments, but upon both of their deaths. The two oldest sisters are late 70s and 80s, so I don’t think I should wait. I would have to ask my father for money or pay it myself. I’m torn, as I feel that three of the siblings don’t deserve my mother’s money. There is also the possibility that the three aunts my mom really wanted to help will not accept any money. How do I honor my mother’s wishes?
Dear Forgotten Niece,
I think you have an ethical obligation to do what your mother would have wanted you to do, unless you feel that you’re being asked to do something immoral. In this case, you’re not; you just don’t believe that her sisters are deserving. You mention that the two eldest sisters are in their 70s and 80s, and depending on their own health, it may not have been reasonable to expect them to participate in grieving your mother the way that you have.
At any rate, it’s not really your place to override your mother’s wishes for her sisters. It’s understandable that you’re hurt by what appears to be their abandonment of your mother, but it is your mother’s money, and she trusted you to respect her wishes. If you don’t think you should wait, you should have a conversation with your father about what to give them. It’s not an unreasonable ask if your mother never nailed down specifics.
And in the event that your aunts won’t accept the money, then you can make decisions about what to do with it using your own discretion and what you understand to be your mother’s wishes for how it would be spent. But I don’t think you should dismiss her intentions simply because you disagree with how her siblings have behaved.
Dear Pay Dirt,
My husband’s parents own a house near the beach close to where we grew up, which is on the other side of the country from where we now live, with no plans to move back. This house was built by a now-deceased family member and is very sentimental to my husband and in-laws. My in-laws are comfortable but not wealthy. When the house was built, the land was cheap, but it is now a very expensive area. My husband and I make good money on paper but live in an incredibly expensive city and have young children.
There are currently no plans for what will happen to the house when my husband’s parents can no longer live independently or pass away, other than to “give it to the kids.” My concern is that it is likely my husband’s siblings would struggle to contribute substantially to maintenance and property taxes, and we just don’t have the disposable income to do this for two houses in expensive locations. Selling would be heartbreaking to my husband and his family. How do families who co-own a house typically deal with expenses such as these? Ideally, we’d rent the house, and rental income would cover maintenance costs, but I’m concerned that the responsibilities that go along with renting would also fall to us. I don’t care if I ever earn a penny off of this house and do not consider it our asset, but I also don’t want it to be a huge emotional or financial burden to us.
—Great House, Wrong Coast
Dear Great House,
You state that selling the house would be heartbreaking to your husband and his family, but you don’t want the difficulties of maintaining it to be an emotional or financial burden. So it’s going to affect you either way. I think you and your husband have to decide, jointly, how important the house is. If it’s impractical for you to actually use it on a regular basis and you believe that it will be a maintenance burden as well, those factors could outweigh the sentimental significance of the house.
In addition, your husband and his siblings should discuss their plan for the house while his parents are still alive to provide input. You can determine ahead of time how to split maintenance, if the idea is that all of the kids retain equal ownership, and commit to selling if that becomes financially unsustainable. It’s good to document these things up front anyway, because if you have shared ownership of the house, the question of what happens to it comes up again in the event that one of your husband’s siblings dies or decides they can’t afford their stake. You’ll also need an exit plan for what will happen if something unforeseen comes up. Ideally, this would be an agreement that allows the siblings to have the right to purchase the remaining stake.
If you all agree to keep the house, you also need to make sure you’re on the same page about who can use it and when, and who will be in charge of upkeep and rental management. These are rules that need to be hammered out now and not after you’re all suddenly joint homeowners. It may be helpful to consult an estate lawyer about how to construct a legal agreement that protects everyone and sets expectations for what will happen once you assume ownership, if you choose to do that. And if you and your husband decide to opt out, that should be discussed now, too, because it likely will affect your siblings’ decision, and possibly the way your in-laws think about leaving everyone the house in the first place.
I’m fortunate enough that my family has always been upper-middle class, though I individually am not as I start a new job in a new state after finishing graduate school. Whenever I ask my parents for financial help, or when they offer it as a gift, they always give me more money than I asked for. For example, my mother paid for a moving company even though I insisted that I could move apartments on my own. The total was approximately $600. When I checked my bank account, she had deposited $1,000. I asked my parents for a $2,000 loan when I needed to buy a “new” used car after mine was totaled, and they gave me $5,000 and won’t accept any payments from me. It always makes me feel bad when they give me too much money. Like I’m still a child who can’t make it on my own.