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‘I planned to buy new tires for the winter’: I didn’t get a stimulus check because I owe back child support. It’s so morally wrong. Will I get one this time?

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Dear Moneyist,

I have 2 kids and I pay child support. I have one daughter who I didn’t know about until she was 5 years old. My arrears for child support have kept me down most of my life.

My credit score never goes past 515. I have a hard time making ends meet, so I applied for the $1,200 stimulus check in September. I was under the impression that I would receive this much-needed money. I planned to buy new tires for the winter. ( I still don’t have new tires.)

The Moneyist:My husband, 67, wants to leave his $2 million estate and home to his disabled daughter and his sister’s kids. Can he do that? I could outlive them

I feel like this relief fund should be exactly that: A relief fund for all Americans. I was hoping that, no matter what debt was owed, Americans could receive this COVID-19 economic stimulus payment. But — no! Minnesota’s child-support program took all the money.

The government could have left me with at least some of this money, but it took all of it. This is so morally wrong and unfair. Please help!

John

Dear John,

I feel for you: You are playing catch-up with child support for a daughter that you didn’t know you had fathered. It’s a complex and imperfect system, and of course it would have helped had you been informed earlier that you had a daughter.

I commend you for doing your best to pay your way and take care of your child. Just because you are behind on child-support payments, that does NOT make you a dead-beat dad. The mother of your child did not inform you when she had her child. That is the hand you were dealt and, by fathering this child, that is also the hand you also dealt yourself. The good news is you should receive the $600 stimulus check. Unlike the first round, it will not be withheld due to back child support.

In the eyes of the government, the financial burden should not be shouldered by one parent alone, and “how was I supposed to know that I fathered a child?” is not typically enough to relieve the father of the financial responsibility of retroactive payments. It just doesn’t wash. This is where you must also take a hard look at your own part in this situation. You were there, you fathered this child, and whether that was intentional or not, you must be held accountable in the eyes of the law.

The Moneyist: ‘I’m lucky to get by on $75,000 a year’: The $600 stimulus program doesn’t sound reasonable to me. Why am I left out?

It’s also worth remembering: If you were the mother of this girl, you would feed and clothe her, take care of her 24/7, pick her up from kindergarten and drop her off, and adjust your work schedule to ensure that you can fulfill your responsibilities as a working parent, while progressing in your career. You would raise your daughter to the best of your ability, help her with her homework, and ideally provide an example of how to be a productive and responsible member of society.

The one person that must take priority in cases such as yours is the child, and that is how it should be. You didn’t buy new winter tires with the $1,200 stimulus last summer, but maybe take heart in the fact that the mother of your child may have been able to buy her a new pair of shoes.

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

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My parents made my sister executor of their $4 million estate, and joint owner of their bank accounts. Should I be worried?

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Dear Quentin,

I just found out that my parents (who are in their mid 80s) have named my sister as their successor trustee, and executor of their estate and wills. They have also put her name on all their financial accounts “in case something happens to us.”

I have no reason to suspect my sister of any nefarious motives, but having her name as joint owner on their accounts seems potentially problematic to me in case of their passing. What are the pros and cons of this arrangement?

Their estate is probably worth about $4 million. We have five other siblings who are currently unaware of this arrangement. Can you provide any resources or articles I could show my parents regarding better ways to accomplish their goal of having someone in charge of their finances?

Concerned Son

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

Dear Son,

People often don’t do anything nefarious, until they have the opportunity to do so and/or run into financial difficulty of their own. That may not be the case with your sister, of course, but your parents should absolutely know the meaning of making one of their children a co-owner on their bank accounts, if their intention is to merely have your sister assist with bills.

Is she a co-owner of this account, or is she a co-signer? If it’s the former, your sister is a joint owner and can spend the money as she wishes. She would likely be liable for debts on that account after your parents’ death. If it’s the latter, your sister has the right to sign checks on your parents’ behalf. To complicate matters, not all banks have the same definitions for “co-owner” and “co-signer.”

Many people don’t understand the difference between being a co-signer and a co-owner. There are many cases of children listed as co-owners (rather than authorized signers) on those accounts who have emptied their parents’ bank account before and after they died. Sometimes, they did not keep enough (or any) receipts, and have been wrongly accused of emptying a parent’s account.


Many people don’t understand the difference between being a co-signer and a co-owner.

In the letters I have received on this issue,the damage was often already done, typically caused by a combination of the three “Gs” — grief, gripes and greed — when long-simmering sibling rivalries boil over. People do things that they may not otherwise do if their parents were there to witness it. You are correct to ensure your parents’ action is in accordance with their wishes.

There are other ”what ifs”: What if your sister dies first? The account would likely become part of her estate too, with a share to be distributed to her children, which could then involve paying a state inheritance tax. Your parents’ accounts could also be “paid on death” or “transferred on death,” avoiding the public and often time-consuming probate process. Read more here.

The Moneyist: ‘I cut his hair because he won’t pay for a haircut’: My multimillionaire husband is 90. I’ve looked after him for 41 years, but he won’t help my son

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Video: SEC's Hester Peirce on why the U.S. is behind the curve on crypto

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S.E.C. Commissioner Hester Peirce on the outlook for crypto regulation, and whether this will finally be the year we see a Bitcoin ETF.





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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.

The Moneyist: ‘I cut his hair because he won’t pay for a haircut’: My multimillionaire husband is 90. I’ve looked after him for 41 years, but he won’t help my son

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