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Dear Pay Dirt,
My daughter “Isabella” is married to a successful young lawyer and is eight months pregnant with their first child. My first wife and I wanted more children, but it never happened. She lost her battle with cancer when Isabella was 16. I didn’t feel like dating again for almost five years. Over the next few years I saw several women, none very seriously. Then, at Isabella’s wedding in 2019, I connected with one of her bridesmaids, “Madison,” a lovely young woman I’d last seen as a gawky teenager. Isabella was shocked when she found out Madison and I were dating, but didn’t expect it to last long. But I just proposed to Madison, and she accepted. I took Isabella out to lunch to tell her. For a minute she almost had a meltdown, but got herself together and said she hopes we are happy together.
Later that night I got an email stating she’s worried about her inheritance if Madison and I have children. Specifically, she’s afraid my house—a beautiful and unique 1884 Victorian which Isabella grew up in from birth, and is deeply attached to—will go to Madison upon my death, and then to my children with Madison, instead of to her and her children. She feels this would be especially unfair because her mother and I were gifted the house by my in-laws.
So, while she says this is hard for her, she’s decided to disallow me any relationship with her unborn son and any future children of hers unless I either transfer the house to her and myself as joint tenants, so she will automatically inherit my share, or to an irrevocable trust with her and her children as beneficiaries. This would prevent me from making a will, then changing it once she’s seen it. She says it’s fine if I give Madison a life estate so she could continue to inhabit the property, along with Isabella’s family, unless she remarries.
Isabella doesn’t even know that Madison wants children. But she does, and I think I’m up for it. I’m in my early 50s, in excellent shape, and my parents and grandparents all lived to at least 80. But from the moment I learned Isabella was pregnant, I’ve also had my heart set on being a grandpa. Should I do as she suggests? Would joint tenancy or a trust be preferable? My biggest concern is that the value of the house (currently over $2 million) may exceed the whole rest of my estate, especially after raising and educating several more children. And Madison has come to love this house as well. In fact, she claims she fell in love with it the first time she came over, in middle school. What would be fair for everyone?
—Vied For Victorian
Dear Vied For Victorian,
I understand your daughter’s discomfort with the situation—you can imagine how you’d feel if your widowed mother married one of your high school friends—but it’s unreasonable for her to try to extort you with the threat of withholding access to your grandchild if you don’t give her the house. And I wonder if Isabella would have the same expectations if you had married someone your own age and, as such, were not going to have children in the future.
Since you don’t have any children with Madison at the moment, but plan to, I would hesitate to do anything that you can’t modify later if circumstances change, or your future children need things you didn’t anticipate, especially while they’re still minors. You need something flexible.
Isabella needs to accept that Madison is going to be your wife, and that you have obligations to her that are permanent. She is not an interloper, and for inheritance purposes, should be treated the same way you’d treat anyone you married and planned to grow old with.
But understand also that it must be exceedingly difficult for Isabella to have to readjust her relationship with Madison. If she was a bridesmaid, I assume they were close, and it probably feels to her like Madison has betrayed her and maybe you have, too. Isabella may feel like she’s being displaced in your life by someone who was a close friend.
Madison, likewise, needs to understand why Isabella is so attached to the house and try to put herself in Isabella’s shoes. She may have known your family for a long time, but she did not grow up in the house, and cannot possibly have the same attachment to it.
I think your best option here is to meet with an estate lawyer and look at options that might satisfy both parties, with the idea that you want to be equitable. Sometimes a third-party recommendation can mitigate the emotional drama around issues like these, and give you a way to reasonably and truthfully say you’re trying to do what is fairly standard in these situations. Be clear with both of them that you are not going to play favorites, and threats will not change that.
Dear Pay Dirt,
My parents recently passed away within six months of each other. After my dad died, my mom moved near me (my two siblings and I live in different states). I was happy to have her, but she was also a LOT of work. During her time near me, my siblings were absent. To be fair, none of us realized that she would die so quickly and everyone was burned out from my father’s illness and death. I ended up as executor because I was the local one. Executorship was also a lot of work, but honestly, I’m glad it was me. I don’t think either one of my siblings would have done as good a job.
Is it reasonable to take the stipend for the executor? The will states that the estate should be divided between the siblings (a large percentage) and my children (a small percentage). They are the only grandchildren, so I know that my siblings already think I am getting the larger share. I don’t need the money, but I am so resentful that my siblings just disappeared on my mom and me. I know they thought there would be more time, but it was an exhausting time for me, and while my mom never said anything, she had to be fully aware that they were showing up for my dad and were absent for her. (They did come to the hospital right at the end.) I’m so grateful that I got the extra time with her and that she knew I was there for her.
I’ve read all the columns about inheritances and generally agree that things should be divided evenly between the kids. But now that I’m here, I’m also bitter that I did the lion’s share of the heavy lifting while they were just going about their lives. Would it be inappropriate to take the executor fee as a small recognition for everything I did? (And everything that they didn’t do?) Or is that just tacky bean counting?
—Are My Emotions Clouding My Reasonableness?
It’s reasonable to take an executor’s fee, but it shouldn’t be an arbitrary number. If a fee is not specifically outlined in the will, state laws allow for executors to be reasonably compensated, but the amount really varies from state to state. Some states provide a specific formula for compensation and that may be some percentage of the estate or the payouts, and in some cases, you can charge an hourly fee, but only for the time you actually spend as executor. (In other words, you can’t retroactively charge the estate for time spent helping your mom when your siblings were absent.)
You have no reason to feel guilty about taking the fee—even if your siblings object—because it’s fairly standard practice and you’re not doing anything untoward. If they have a problem with it, any estate lawyer can explain to them why it’s perfectly normal.
But I would suggest that you put your resentment behind you if you can. Inheritances are designed to provide future generations with stability, not to compensate children for end-of-life care—unless a will specifically provides for that. You mention that your siblings live in different states, which by virtue of location would have made it difficult for them to put in the same amount of effort that you did, short of them packing up and moving to be near you as well. I think it’s understandable that you are hurt by the lack of support, but it sounds like it could have easily just been a matter of logistics. I would err on the side of preserving your relationship with them.
Dear Pay Dirt,
I am 71 years old and for most of my life, I was quite healthy. Nine months ago, I had a heart attack which I am still recovering from. I pay all the expenses. I keep track of all income/savings and I do 100% of everyday chores, too (food shopping and stuff like that).
Here’s my concern: If I allowed my wife access to our money, she would blow through our savings in less than a year. My wife loves to shop and always buys things that are not needed. She has no desire to learn how to manage money. I have tried numerous times to sit and explain how to manage our finances and I am terribly afraid that when I am gone (in a year or less from now) she will be in a terrible financial position if she continues to be reckless in her spending habits. I’ve asked my daughter to become involved once I am not here to confiscate her paycheck, pay the household bills, and place her on an allowance (depending on what her income would be). But am I getting too involved in her financial life after I am gone?
—Am I Too Concerned?
Dear Am I Too Concerned,
You and your wife should see a financial planner, who can help you ensure that she has enough to live on and will not spend all of her savings in one blow. You can, for example, set up a trust that issues payouts in increments to your wife so she can’t spend the principal all at once.
Your wife should be part of this process so that she understands that you’re trying to make sure she’s taken care of if something happens to you. Being a part of the financial planning process will also help ease her into the process of long-term planning and budgeting.
I would not recommend solely relying on your daughter to manage her money, which will only create resentment—probably for both of them. Your wife won’t like being treated like she’s irresponsible, and your daughter doesn’t need the potential conflict. Also, I assume your daughter is not a professional money manager. Sometimes it’s good to have third parties handle matters like this, anyway because they have a more sophisticated understanding of how funds should be allocated. It would also likely give your daughter some comfort to know that these things have been planned out and she is not going to have to constantly monitor your wife’s finances.
It’s always better for everyone to have clear expectations about what will happen after you’re gone, so it’s a good idea to proceed now with this process. The certainty will help everyone deal with what comes next.
Dear Pay Dirt,
I have an age-old question about labor division. My husband and I have been married for four years (living together for six) and both came into the relationship young and extremely poor. We brought only debts into the marriage and were below the poverty line. Through some hard work, focus on mental health, and some sheer good luck from the pandemic, we are now very comfortably upper-middle class. We have no kids, but four very high-energy rescue dogs.
We split most responsibilities evenly—cooking, cleaning, laundry, dog care, grocery shopping, etc. The one task I completely handle is our personal finances. We’re the rare young couple that has one joint account and shares expenses and income 100%. (I make about three times more than he does and work about 15 hours more per week than he does.) When I started to make more money, I tackled all our debt and now manage a portfolio of investments and our 401(k), day trade on the stock market, pay all the bills, and handle our budget and savings account. It is a lot of work and very time-consuming. However, it makes sense for me to handle this and just keep him apprised of everything right now because I built a career in finance, something he has virtually zero knowledge of.
What’s a fair way for us to divide this labor? Ask him to handle the bills while I handle the investments? Invest some time in teaching him about what I’m doing so we can start splitting responsibilities? Or ask him to just take some stuff completely off my plate (like he does all the laundry and grocery shopping/meal planning?) We communicate well, I’m just trying to figure out the best way to keep things equitable.
—Who Pays the Bills?
Dear Who Pays the Bills,
As a finance professional, I’m sure you’re familiar with the concept of competitive advantage, which is a corporation’s ability to produce something better than its competition—or put more simply, a structural incentive to focus on what it’s best at. I think this applies to divisions of labor in households, too. If your husband has no knowledge of finance, it’s probably better to have him take something off your place that he can do well and enjoys—ideally something you dislike and won’t mind offloading.
In my household, I have a completely irrational hatred of doing the dishes, and my husband dislikes putting our seven-year-old to bed because it invariably involves a round of epic negotiations that would rival SALT II. So he does the dishes, and I read the 2.5 books, get the inevitable glass of water, give exactly two back scratches, and periodically answer all lingering questions about the existence of life in the universe. The endless negotiation doesn’t bother me because I’m an epic negotiator myself. This works out nicely for us. I highly recommend it.
So think about what you both enjoy, what you’re good at, and what you dislike doing and try to split responsibilities up that way, instead of insisting that everything be 50/50 just for the sake of superficial parity. I think you’ll be much more satisfied with the division of labor.
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I am 17, and my little sister is 7. My parents are now totally different than the parents I remember having at her age. Her allowance is much larger than mine was, they say yes to basically everything (she can have food in the living room, which was strictly forbidden), and I can’t see how she’s not going to wind up spoiled.