Pay Dirt

I Waited to Tell My Fiancé the Truth About My Money. It Went Horribly Wrong.

I want to make peace with this.

Person holding an engagement ring and looking at it.
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Dear Pay Dirt, 

I am not rich but my parents came into a very large, unexpected inheritance when I was in college. Nothing about them changed other than we went on nicer vacations and put in a pool.
The knowledge was enough to make friends and loved ones change on me. Suddenly, I was the jerk if I wanted to borrow money back, wouldn’t cover a roommate’s rent, or didn’t constantly treat everyone all the time. Some of those people were friends from middle school and knew my parents still lived in the same home and neighborhood.

It didn’t matter I was going to school full time and working two part-time jobs. I could “just ask” my parents for money. The entire bitter experience left me with trust issues. I don’t want to play games, but being open and honest with people just brings in the vultures. I had a three-year relationship in tears and broken trust because I waited until the engagement to tell her the truth.

My parents have made it clear, that I will inherit a sizeable portion of their estate but I shouldn’t “count” on it. Essentially I will expect to get the house, money for retirement, and college funds for my kids if I have them. My career pays well. I don’t “need” the money but it is nice to have a nest egg. But it is lonely. I don’t like the jet-set lifestyle. I hate even flying. I have tried therapy but nothing seems to fit. How do I make peace with this money and the inheritance I’ll one day have? And talk to the people in my life about it?

—Desperate for Answers

Dear Desperate,

It sounds like it isn’t the inheritance itself causing stress but anxiety and fear about how people will react to it. You’ve built this inheritance up in your head so much. I suspect how you portray it when you finally tell someone is fraught and makes your family’s financial security seem like a dirty secret. A fiancé that wants to share their life with you should see it as a good thing to find out you won’t have to struggle to pay for your kids’ college. It’s all in the delivery.

But remember: It isn’t your money yet. Inheritances can change at any time. Your parents might need the money for retirement or end-of-life care, donate all their wealth to a trust to fight climate change, fall out with you, or outlive you. You are not obligated to share the details of your parents’ finances with your friends. As you’ve learned, money can change how people act around you. Once you’re engaged would generally be an excellent time to bring up the inheritance, but frame it as your parents have: You can’t count on it.

While you said therapy hasn’t worked for you before, I’d recommend searching for a therapist specializing in financial therapy. You can work with them to develop internal scripts about how you think about money. Next time it’s appropriate to talk about the inheritance, you’ll have better tools to discuss it without it ending in tears.

—Lillian

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My girlfriend of 10 months and I have pretty different upbringings: She has rich, divorced parents; an elderly aunt raised me. I never gave our backgrounds much thought until recently, but I have noticed a pattern. Several times when my girlfriend has fallen behind on her obligations, she will call up her mother or father and get them to send her money. The first time it was a car repair bill, which seemed reasonable. But then it was the musical festival, the out-of-town concert, and then a huge shopping trip.