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My fiancé and I have 3 kids each. My stepson, 16, left his Christmas gift behind last year. Should I get him nothing this year?

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I have been with my fiancé for over two years, and we each have 3 kids from previous marriages. Five of the kids get along great with everyone. However, my fiancé has a 16-year-old son who wants nothing to do with any of us, and I am finding myself not wanting to get him anything for Christmas.

In general, he has a bad attitude, contributes nothing to the household, and doesn’t apply himself in school. Yet he thinks he should be allowed to play sports, and be given a car and insurance. This all bothers me, but what bothers me most is the way he treats all the rest of us.

For example, at my own son’s 7th birthday, he begrudgingly showed up to the party, didn’t talk to anybody, and left early. I believe he only showed up because he was told that he had to.

When we are together as a family at their house, he doesn’t even come out of his bedroom. He will show up to eat dinner, then immediately leaves without so much as a word. Not even a thank you.

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I spent the last 2 years trying very hard to be kind to him, and to always greet him and include him regardless of his attitude. But recently, I just no longer care about his approval. I am starting to feel that if he wants nothing to do with me or my kids, then I will oblige him.

Last year, I asked him what he would like for Christmas. He gave me no answer. I ended up getting him some card games and “puzzles” for adults, and he purposely left them at my house, so I assume he wasn’t pleased with them. This year, his dad (my fiancé) told me that he wants cash, but I don’t want to hand out cash to all the kids for Christmas. I am contemplating getting him nothing at all.

Your guidance in this matter would be very appreciated.

Just Over It

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com. Want to read more?Follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitterand read more of his columns here.

Dear Over It,

Christmas is not the time to hand him his asinine attitude on a plate.

How would that make you feel? That’s the first, and last, question you must ask yourself. We can speculate how it might make him feel — angry, justified in his bad behavior, hurt, humiliated, or glad he doesn’t have to go through the motions anymore — but it’s far more important what effect it will have on you, and your family. You are the adult in this situation, and getting into the sand pit with a 16-year-old does not sound like a good idea to me, especially on Christmas Day. You don’t have to take his guff either. “Hey, Greg, I asked you a question. Can you at least answer?”

I ask myself how something makes me feel many times a day when I make big and small decisions: “How does it make me feel?” Sometimes, my Jiminy Cricket is waving a red flag or giving me smoke signals, and I pay attention to that. It helps me make financial decisions that are in my best interest: saving makes me feel good, spending does (sometimes) and other times I realize I’m spending my emotions (that is, I’m spending money to get a “hit” and cheer myself up not because I really want or need something. I’ve saved a lot of money that way.

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Answering this letter makes me feel good. I hope that I am helping someone, so I endeavor to start or end my day with this column. I pause before sending an email or a text or commenting on a
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 conversation, and I ask myself that same question. If I feel like I am venting, and I feel that familiar surge of adrenaline because I disagree with someone or want to set them straight about something, I tell myself to stop. If I feel the need to give someone unsolicited advice, I do the same. It’s not always 100% successful. It takes practice.

It’s not up to your 16-year-old to decide how he should behave. It’s up to you to give him boundaries about what is and what is not acceptable. This has nothing to do with Christmas or family dinners, of course. He is a teenager, and that’s a whole set of problems right there, and he appears to have issues with being part of a blended family, and having a new authority figure to answer to. Or not, in this case. You and your fiancé could give each other a Christmas present, and have him see a therapist. It may also be better to give him the space he needs. He will grow up in his own time.

Excluding him could take this antipathy into acrimony. It’s OK to ask him what you can do to help you both get along, and it’s OK to say, “Greg, can you make an effort? You’re 16, and I was hoping we could help each other make this work. You have two more years before you go to college. I would like us to get along, even if you are not ready to be friends.” You don’t have to be super-sweet to him, and you don’t have to be mean to him either. You could just be honest about how you feel, and even appeal to his sense of humor. “This stepmother/stepson standoff is a little cliched, don’t you think?”

This is the beginning of your relationship with your stepson. He wants a check, so give him a check. At least he’ll be less likely to leave it behind.

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My husband doesn’t get along with my son. I brought most of the wealth into our marriage. How do I split my estate?

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Dear Quentin,

How do couples typically handle their estates in a second marriage? My husband and I have been married for seven years, and it is the second marriage for both of us. I have one adult child from my previous marriage; he has no children.

I brought the majority of our wealth to our marriage, including almost $1 million in my 401(k) and a nice home that is almost paid off; otherwise, we have no debt. My husband and I bought a second home together. We work hard to fund our new 401(k)s, and own a successful business together.

I am turning 65 this year, so estate planning is long overdue. My husband is five years younger than me, and we are both in very good health. We have two issues facing us: I see our retirement as living very comfortably on the monthly income generated by our 401(k)s, pension, Social Security, etc., and leaving whatever may be left to my son.


‘The other issue is that my husband no longer gets along with my dear son at all, and feels no obligation to get along with him.’

I am not interested in scrimping, but I want to be able to have enough money to last us until age 90 (or beyond) by not touching the principal. My husband is more interested in dipping deep into our savings, and living it up in retirement while we are young enough to enjoy it.

The other issue is that my husband no longer gets along with my dear son at all, and feels no obligation to get along with him, to the point that neither one wants anything to do with the other. As far as he is concerned, my son doesn’t meet his expectations, and so deserves nothing from me and certainly nothing from him.

I want my estate planning to be fair to both my new husband and my son. How do people typically handle this type of quandary? I think that I need to create some type of trust to pass on my share of our estate to my son. My pre-marriage assets involved my son as I pursued my graduate degree through night school and worked long hours throughout his childhood.

Second Wife

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com.

Dear Second Wife,

Don’t allow your husband’s feelings toward your son to influence your estate planning.

Your relationships with your husband and your son and your own plans for retirement are all fair game when making decisions about your estate, but your husband and son’s fractured relationship is their business, not yours. You worked hard for this money, and your son is your legal heir. Any effort by your husband to spend all of your savings and fritter away any inheritance that you intended to leave to your son should be resisted at all costs.

You have worked too hard your entire life to compromise your plans for a comfortable retirement where you have money set aside for long-term medical care insurance, unforeseen emergencies and/or your son. If you jointly own your home, you can leave your half to your son in your will, and specify it can only be sold after your husband passes away.

If you own the home, you can give your husband a life estate. Your son would pay capital-gains tax on the value of your home when he sells it, and not when you bought it. You could also make your son the beneficiary on your life-insurance policy, and/or gift him a certain amount of money per year to see how he manages and spends that money.

Figure out what is fair to yourself first before moving on to what is fair to your husband and your son. It’s OK to put your needs first. I caution against your dipping into savings at a rate that is beyond your own risk tolerance.

Ultimately, you are entitled to leave all other separate property to your son when you die — and, along with a financial adviser, set up a trust with that in mind for you, your husband and your son. Not necessarily in that order.

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These money and investing stories, popular with MarketWatch readers over the past week, can give you a better understanding of bitcoin and other cyrptocurrency, and help you figure out if digital currency has a place in your portfolio alongside stocks, bonds and other traditional assets.

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