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My mother’s husband died. Her savings are dwindling, yet she pays my sister’s bills. Should I intervene?

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Dear Moneyist,

My stepfather recently passed away. He and my mother were each receiving Social Security, and he had two pensions that were fully paid out during his lifetime. This leaves my mother with about 50% of her original income. She is left with savings and investments with a value of about $150,000.

Eventually, my mother is set to inherit my grandmother’s house where she currently lives and pays monthly rent to my grandmother of $2,500, but I am uncertain when that will happen (possibly in about five years or longer, depending on my grandmother’s health).

My mother’s only income is equal to her housing expenses, so she will need to rely on her savings to pay her bills of about $1,500 to $2,000 a month. They are high, mainly because she pays for my 23-year-old sister’s bills (that amount to $500 to $600 per month).

The Moneyist:My sister became my late father’s power of attorney, took out a reverse mortgage on his home, and drained his equity. What can I do?

I’ve been able to reduce her bills by canceling things she doesn’t use, and negotiating for discounts for her cell phone and TV. I’ve told my mother that my sister should be paying her own bills as she lives rent free in my mother’s home, and just spends her money on whatever she likes.

I thought we were on the same page, but my mother seems reluctant to have this discussion and continues to pay her way. I’m worried that my mother will run through her savings before she gets her inheritance, and then she will be in dire circumstances due to my sister’s indulgence.

Should I push for my sister to be a big girl and learn the concept of responsibility, or should I keep my mouth shut?

Disgruntled sister

Want to read more?Follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitterand read more of his columns here.

Dear Disgruntled,

I join you, your sister and your mother in wishing your grandmother a long and healthy life. And, of course, I wish the same for your mother too. I understand that it must be hard to watch your mother give hundreds of dollars to your sister every month, especially as she only has a finite amount of savings. But this is her decision to make, as long as she is of sound mind and not under undue influence.

You need an objective voice, preferably a financial adviser, to outline your mother’s financial situation and goals as she faces a life without her husband. It would make a nice New Year’s gift, and you could pitch it as a way of putting your and your mother’s mind at ease. The adviser would then form an opinion on your sister’s role in your mother’s life and finances.

It’s unlikely that your sister will, upon hearing your opinion, suddenly start paying her way. She will accept money from your mother as long as your mother gives it to her. It’s hard to undo such an arrangement. When someone is used to being given special or preferential treatment, they often believe that this is their due. The more pressure you put on both of them, the more defensive they are likely to become.

You need a third party to intervene who does not have a horse in this race.

The Moneyist:My wife and I have 3 kids. I also have 3 kids from a previous marriage. How should we split our house among these 6 children?

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Quentin Fottrell is MarketWatch’s Moneyist columnist. You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions at qfottrell@marketwatch.com. By emailing your questions, you agree to having them published anonymously on MarketWatch.





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My brother owes $10K to our late father’s estate. There’s no loan agreement and I’m executor. How should I approach repayment?

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Dear Quentin,

My father passed and I am the executor of his will.

We sold the house and Dad’s assets with my brother’s help. Probate is done. We are ready to distribute the remainder of my father’s estate, but my brother owes the estate $10,000.

He feels that if he had paid this money back before Dad passed, he would still get half back, and therefore owes $5,000. (Dad also told me that he owed the money before he passed.)

My father’s will says his estate should be split 50/50. I feel my brother owes $10,000 to the estate. I do not want to rock the boat, and will do the right thing in order to keep peace.

What is the proper way to split $200,000 in cash when he owes the estate $10,000? For the record, my brother will abide by whatever I decide. Thank you in advance for your help.

Trying to Do the Right & Proper Thing

Dear Right & Proper,

You are right to not look for trouble where there is none.

Given that there is no notarized loan agreement between your brother and your late father and there is money to be distributed, it would seem simpler and faster to have him sign a note now saying he owes the estate $10,000 and deduct the $5,000 from his eventual inheritance. Done and done. He could, after all, say that the loan was only due to be repaid when your father was alive or, indeed, say the loan was a gift. (The subject of countless episodes of “Judge Judy.”)

Your story is a cautionary tale of what could go wrong. “A hug or a handshake is not sufficient to bind someone to loan repayment. Loans and repayment obligations should be spelled out in writing and include repayment terms upon the testator’s death,” according to the Absolute Trust Counsel, a California law firm. “It is the responsibility of the executor to collect the balance due. An estate cannot be settled until all loans are collected and all debts settled or paid.”

“When an estate is insolvent, the collection of outstanding loans becomes especially important. Creditors want to be paid and will pursue all available resources to accomplish that,” the firm adds. “Many times, unpaid loans create dissension among heirs. In some cases, heirs who owe money still expect to receive an equal share of an estate.”

There is a healthy cash sum from which to deduct your brother’s loan: $105,000 for you and $95,000 for him. It could get sticky otherwise.

Thankfully, your brother also wants to do what’s right and proper.

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

The Moneyist: ‘Warren Buffett and Harry Potter couldn’t get those two retired early’: Our spendthrift neighbors said our adviser was ‘lousy.’ So how come WE retired early?

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By emailing your questions, you agree to having them published anonymously on MarketWatch. By submitting your story to Dow Jones & Company, the publisher of MarketWatch, you understand and agree that we may use your story, or versions of it, in all media and platforms, including via third parties.



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These money and investing tips can help you sail the stock market’s choppy seas

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Don’t miss these top money and investing features:

These money and investing stories, popular with MarketWatch readers over the past week, give you tips about how to navigate the financial markets after February’s bumpy second half and signs pointing to March blowing in with more unpredictable winds.



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This 57-year-old said ‘screw this’ to San Francisco — and retired to ‘delightful’ Albuquerque, where she slashed her expenses by 70%

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When Roberta Reinstein moved to the Bay Area roughly 30 years ago to go to law school, it felt to her like a different place than it does now.

“It was possible for a student to live there…it was filled with artists,” she says. But Reinstein, 57, watched as real-estate prices skyrocketed (in just the past decade or so, home values have nearly doubled, according to Zillow) and many artists and less wealthy people had to move out. Nowadays, “San Francisco is only for the wealthy — the super wealthy — unless you’re willing to live with five roommates,” she jokes.


Do you have an interesting retirement story? Email helpmeretire@marketwatch.com with your story.

As she was watching San Francisco become a hub for the rich, she had a financial setback of her own: a divorce, in which she and her spouse had to split up their assets. And the divorce necessitated she move out of the family home, so she was spending $4,000 a month on a tiny pad to share with her daughter, Eva, she says.

“When Eva was in high school I started to think, do I really need to be here? There are lots of other places I can go.” And the more she thought about it, the more she realized: “Screw this, I gotta get out of here,” Reinstein says with a laugh. “I was ready for a break from the high cost, crowds and Google-fueled insanity of the Bay Area.”

Plus, she loved to flip houses (she’d done a couple in California years ago, before the real-estate prices were so high) and knew that was out of the question for her to do in the Bay Area — so she and her new partner, Peter, considered where else they could live. “We thought for a microsecond that Arizona might be the place, but it was way too hot in the summer.”

Roberta Reinstein and her partner, Peter.


Roberta Reinstein

They settled on Albuquerque for a number of reasons, including the weather, affordability of real estate, access to outdoor activities and the fact that Reinstein’s best friend had recently moved there.

Here’s what life is like in ABQ.

The area: Though it’s perhaps best known for its annual hot-air balloon festival and being the setting for AMC’s hit show “Breaking Bad”, ABQ — which has a population of roughly 550,000 — has a lot more going for it than that. “Albuquerque is a delightful, quirky hidden gem,” says Reinstein.

The Albuquerque Skyline at dusk.


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It’s an artsy spot — there are hundreds of galleries and art studios; monthly art crawls, and a robust performing-arts scene — and a city where outdoor enthusiasts flock to. That’s helped along by the miles of hiking and biking trails in the adjacent Sandia and Manzano Mountains, as well as the roughly 300 days of sunshine. (Though January average lows are in the mid-20s, and July highs hit the low 90s.) And Reinstein tells MarketWatch she loves that it’s a diverse city with its own unique cuisine and celebrations.

Of course, there are downsides: Overall crime is high, though Reinstein says that while there are some not-so-desirable neighborhoods, there are plenty of areas that are safe. She adds that she’s never been the victim of a crime other than someone stealing a hose from one of the homes she was flipping. And there is “a fair amount of poverty,” says Reinstein. Plus, she says, the city can feel like it has a lot of sprawl, and she misses great Asian food.

View of the mountains from Reinstein’s yard


Roberta Reinstein

Here’s what MarketWatch recently wrote about Albuquerque.

The cost: Though Reinstein doesn’t keep a strict budget, she estimates that she probably spends about $3,000 a month to live in Albuquerque — despite having pricey hobbies like owning two horses — it costs her $1,250 a month to board them, which is her most significant expense. She says that most things are cheaper in Albuquerque than they were in San Francisco, including energy and gas, and estimates that she spends roughly 70% less a month than she did in the Bay Area.

Reinstein at the nearby stables.

The biggest way she saves money is by not having a mortgage on her home: She bought the four-bedroom, three-bath home that sits on an acre of land for $240,000, using a combination of savings, her divorce settlement and proceeds from homes she bought and flipped in Arizona and New Mexico, she says. And she adds that you can get a “nice house in a decent neighborhood for under $200,000” with smaller homes to be had for $100,000 or so, and can rent a nice place for $700 to $800 a month. Plus, she drives an older car — “a ratty Toyota Tundra truck” — she explains, so she doesn’t have a car loan.

The sitting room in Reinstein’s home.


Roberta Reinstein

Indeed, the cost of living and property taxes in Albuquerque are slightly below average for the U.S., median homes cost under $200,000, according to Sperling’s Best Places — and you can read about New Mexico’s tax situation here.

The bottom line: Reinstein says she plans to stay. “People are super friendly,” she adds, noting that it’s easy to make friends and get involved in things here. She’s part of a ladies walking group in the neighborhood and has made friends from her barn. “I have like two people I still correspond with [from the Bay Area],” she jokes, adding that “I was so wrapped up in my own world there.” But in ABQ, she says: “I had to go back to managing my schedule because I can’t get stuff done. I have so much to do here.”



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