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Let’s Take a Few More Questions from the Audience

I don’t mention it as often as I should, but the truth is that I’d be lost without you, my loyal, encouraging and responsive audience. Thank you for being there every day and for filling my email inbox to overflowing with your comments, questions and outpourings of love and gratitude. Please don’t stop. Ever.

Speaking of questions, let’s take a few from the audience …

Q: I am having a problem with slow-cooker cooking. I got a new cooker and now everything—even pot roast—is turning out dry! Any ideas on what I’m doing wrong?

A: Slow cookers cook at a much higher temperature now than they did say 20 years ago. It is due to food safety concerns, but in reality and in my opinion, that has taken the advantage of the slow cooker away—the advantage for working families to start meals before work and come home to tasty, properly cooked food even if it’s been cooking for 8 hours or longer. All too often results are mushy, dry and flavorless.

Handling an Inheritance Requires a Game Plan

While not always easy to think about, inheritances are a part of the financial picture for many baby boomers—and just one of the topics that popped up as I reached into my mailbox this past week.

Dear Mary: Before reading your book, Debt-Proof Living I believed we were doing just fine with our money. Recently, my husband’s father died and we received a small inheritance. We sat down to decide how to handle this money. I pulled out the book and showed my husband the chapter on the 10-10-80 formula and the information about the Freedom Account.

We sat there and figured out our expenses. We were shocked to discover we’ve been spending almost $1,800 more than we make each month. I guess we didn’t notice because we would take a
“little” out of savings to cover expenses as needed. At this rate, all

Parents’ Financial Decisions and Their Adult Children

Parents of adult children may believe it’s none of their kids’ business how they handle their finances and what they do with their money.

While that may be true, never forget that every financial decision you make has the potential one day to become either a burden or a blessing for your family.

Dear Mary: One of our friends suggested that we look into a plan called “Life Estate,” which would make sure that our home goes to our children no matter what.

We own our home and have no debt, but have no long-term care insurance either. Of course, we hope to stay well until we die, but in the event we would have to go to a nursing home and our monies run out, we understand this plan would preclude the nursing home from taking our home. Your thoughts? Tom and Jackie

Dear Tom and Jackie: I am not an attorney, but I do have experience as a real estate broker. Generally, I can tell you that “life estate” is a term used to designate the way legal ownership or title is held on real property.

To do this, you would deed your property to your children, who become the “remaindermen,” while you become the “life tenants.”

As the life tenants, you retain possession of the property including full costs of maintaining the property. The life tenants cannot sell the property without the consent of the remaindermen. Further, your children would receive full ownership (fee simple) immediately upon the death of the last life tenant, without the property going through probate.

There are advantages and also a few disadvantages for you to convey your property now to a life estate that you need to fully understand before making a decision. I suggest that you meet with a qualified real estate attorney.

If you decide to deed your property to a life estate it should be as simple as completing forms and having them properly recorded in the county where the property is located.

Dear Mary: I have been reading your books, newsletters and this daily column for years. You have really helped me a lot. Thanks! I have passed along everything that I could to my parents, but evidently they haven’t read a thing.

A year ago, my brother bailed our parents out from foreclosure and they are still so far in debt they can’t see even a glimmer of light.

Now they want to come for a visit and I want to tell them not to come because I know they can’t afford it. If you ask them if they can afford it they will laugh and tell you they can’t afford anything, but that doesn’t change anything. They have nothing in savings, and spend money (credit cards) like they have all the money in the world, trying to keep up appearances.

Should I tell them that they can’t come visit until they get back on their feet again, or just let them come and continue to flounder and get more in debt than they already are? I’ve been able to put them off for a couple of months, but I don’t know how much longer I can. I feel like I’m caught between a rock and a hard place. Debbie

Dear Debbie: There is a reason I have NOT written a book, How to Manage Your Parents’ Money. That’s because you can’t control your parents or make any useful demands on them.

My advice is to back off. Call and invite them to come and visit at the earliest possible time. Do everything you can to make their visit enjoyable including not talking to them about their financial situation. Let the way you live and manage your finances speak louder than anything you can say.

Should they die broke leaving all kinds of debt, you will not be liable for any of it, provided you have not added your name to any of their accounts.

Please, just love them and allow them to have a warm and loving relationship with you despite your differences.

With ATM Receipts and Legal Guardians, Leave Nothing to Chance

Face it, life is uncertain. We cannot know the future, but that doesn’t mean we should just throw caution to the wind and let come what may. There are some areas of life where we can take steps to reduce certain risks by exercising good common sense.

Dear Mary: This has been bugging me: At my bank’s ATM, there is a big trashcan where everyone throws away their receipt/transaction slips. It seems like a bad idea to toss them away since they show the balance and transaction info. But being cautious means I end up with an overstuffed, cluttered wallet. Do I need to save them, and what’s the best way to get rid of them? Rob

From Credit Counseling to Contaminated Mascara—Readers Want to Know

There are so many things I love about my job, and right at the top is that my readers trust me to help them with everything from figuring out if they could benefit from getting professional help with their debt situation to figuring out when to toss the mascara.

Dear Mary: I am out of money—and I mean not a dime left after I pay bills. I have been considering credit counseling to get some breathing room. My credit is shot and I’m feeling desperate. By enrolling in credit counseling, at least the creditors would get regular payments and checks that don’t bounce. Am I wrong to consider this kind of help? Sandy

Fire Extinguisher Safety Zone, Super Useful Website and Handy Vacuum Tool, Too (with UPDATE!)

What do fire extinguishers, hard-to-find phone numbers and handy dandy cleaning tools have in common? Nothing other than the subject lines of three messages that recently washed up in my email box!

Dear Mary: Your recent column on fire extinguishers and the P.A.S.S. system got me thinking about my home fire extinguisher. Like yours, mine has been there so long it’s blending in with the decor and that prompted my question: Do fire extinguishers expire? How can I know it is still good? When should I replace? Janine

Dear Janine: Fire extinguishers do not have an infinite lifespan. They will expire. The typical portable extinguisher that has not been opened remains in good condition between 5 to 15 years. But you don’t have to guess or wonder if it’s fully charged and ready to go. Look for the pressure gauge on the extinguisher itself. Check to make sure the needle on the gauge is in the green zone. That indicates that it is still good. Once that needle moves into the red zone it should be replaced or recharged. (Small extinguishers for home use are often “single-use” products and cannot be recharged.)

Wool Dryer Balls: Safe for People and Dryers—Plus Privacy Trick

A couple of days ago I got multiple letters with questions about wool dryer balls. Are they safe? What if I’m allergic to wool?!

Honestly, I had opinions but not definitive answers and that sent me into research mode. I learned some very cool stuff I think you’ll enjoy knowing as well:

Dear Mary: The wool dryer balls sound interesting but what if a person is allergic to wool?  I am allergic to wool and avoid it at all costs. Do the wool dryer balls transfer allergens to items while drying? I would love to have my sheets, towels come out without being all balled up.  Thanks for any help you can give on this. Joyce

Dear Joyce: You may be allergic to the natural lanolin found in sheepswool, but that would be very rare. Only about 6% of those who are tested for lanolin allergy turn up positive. It’s more likely you, like many people, are sensitive to the short bristly fibers that irritate your sensitive skin and make you feel itchy.

Either way, lanolin is washed away during the manufacturing process of wool dryer balls. Even if trace amounts remain and you are one who does have a lanolin allergy (you’d know this because you are also allergic to all skin care and makeup products that contain lanolin), it will not transfer to your clothes. As for those short bristly fibers in the sheepswool, the only way the dryer balls could cause an irritation is if you rubbed them on your skin.

Neither lanolin nor bristly short fibers are an issue when using wool dryer balls in your clothes dryer. Use them well and enjoy the results!

When Money is at the Root of Marriage and Family Squabbles

Disagreements over money can tear marriages and families apart. In fact, unresolved money conflicts remains the number one for divorce. But it doesn’t have to be that way. More often than not, the solution can be found in this single word directive: communicate!

Dear Mary: My husband always insists on balancing our joint checkbook, and I recently found out why. The last statement came in while he was away on business so I decided to deal with it. Well, I was astonished to see a check to his parents for $250. I went through a couple prior statements and found the same thing. I figured out he’s been doing this ever since his parents retired last year. Besides being shocked, I was hurt. We’re not exactly rolling in dough. We have three kids and a hefty mortgage, but I wouldn’t have outright refused to help my in-laws. How should I broach the subject with him? And shouldn’t I be acknowledged for my contribution to this little retirement fund? After all, I work too! Christina

Dear Christina: Skimming money is a real problem for any partnership, especially a marriage. But money problems in a marriage are rarely only about the money. There’s usually an underlying issue. If he’d asked, I would have told him that as noble as his intentions might be, his commitment to you and to his marriage trumps his relationship with his parents. It’s wrong to do this behind your back.