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.
But since you wrote, I’m going to ask you why he felt he had to sneak around to do this? There was a time he told you everything. But now he knew you’d hit the roof if he brought it up. I suggest that you go to him as his loving wife and partner, not a raging foe. Simply tell him how hurt you are that he couldn’t talk to you about this. Assure him that you willing to talk now. Let him know that if you are going to enjoy financial harmony in your marriage, everything has to be on the table–his spending and yours too. Talk it out. I’m sure you can negotiate a compromise you can both live with.
I can’t help but point out that a man who cares this much for his aging parents has to be a pretty good guy.
Dear Mary: My sister and her husband have really been struggling to make ends meet. To help them out, my parents are converting their home into a two-family residence. Mom and Dad are moving into the upstairs apartment and letting Debbie, Steven and their two kids take over the main part of the house. I’m glad Mom and Dad can help Debbie’s family out, but both my brother and I are confused about what this means as far as our inheritance goes. It was always assumed the house would be split three ways, but will this situation change anything? Debbie assures us there’s nothing to worry about. Thanks in advance for any light you can shed on this situation for us. Pam
Dear Pam: If you are concerned that by moving in with your folks Debbie and Steven might somehow claim ownership of the house, relax. Your parents would have to sign a specific legal document for that to happen. Their Will or Living Trust (Nolo’s Quicken WillMaker Plus works with both PC and Mac and includes a free one-year subscription to Nolo’s Online Living Trust), determines what happens to their assets upon their deaths.
Let’s say that one day, as you assume, the three of you inherit this property. If sis and hubby are still living there, she wears two hats: Debbie remains a co-tenant with Steven and she becomes a co-owner with you and your brother. That’s when the sparks could fly. Do the three owners sell the property? Raise the rent? Kick out the occupants? Family money squabbles can get ugly.
I suggest you bring up the subject with your folks now. Encourage them to have an attorney review their Will or Living Trust and also create a simple occupancy agreement for Debbie and Steven that reflects your parents’ long-term wishes for their estate and family. By the way, improving the property will undoubtedly increase its market value. That sounds like a good deal for everyone.