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My daughter-in-law will only have a second child by surrogacy — and wants to use $200K of my son’s inheritance to pay for it

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My son, 35, has been married for 3 years with one child. He recently came to me with what I consider to be a stunningly unusual dilemma.  

He wanted my counsel on the idea of a second child, something he desires greatly  He was married in 2017, and the first child was born in 2019.

It turns out that his wife, 35, is very reluctant not, as she claims, to have another child, but to bear another child. She says she would agree to surrogacy at a cost exceeding $200,000. She claims this is her right, as a feminist, and that she is entitled to control what happens with her body.

At this point, I was at a total loss. It’s something I can’t even imagine physically, emotionally, socially, or financially.  


This does NOT seem to be a good use of money for a healthy couple who have not had trouble conceiving.

This does NOT seem to be a good use of money for a healthy couple who have not had trouble conceiving, and seems to indicate a significant lack of judgement and sensitivity.

My son inherited a decent amount of money at 30 (about $1 million), an amount that once might have sounded like a lot, but what is now basically the ability to purchase a house and fund education for children.

In our family, we have always adhered as closely as possible to the rule “never dip into capital.”

Yet he has already dipped into capital by covering his wife’s $250,000 in college and credit-card debt before they were even married — a pretty heroic rescue!  

After the fact, I was shocked to learn that she had received a full scholarship in a perfectly good university (tuition, room and board), but turned it down in favor of NYU, with zero financial aid. She had no particular plan for repaying this debt — in fact, her initial ambition following college was to be a yoga instructor.

Not surprisingly, that did not pan out terribly well. They now live near San Francisco, where both are employed in tech-ish jobs — my son is a data scientist, and my daughter-in-law has a job involving social media.  

Their compensation is decent (hers possibly much as $100,000, his maybe $130,000), but not spectacular, certainly not in expensive northern California. I’m fairly sure my son’s job (an established company) has a better future than hers (a “startup” that is teetering due to COVID-19).


On top of this, my daughter-in-law’s parents are indigent, unemployable and completely dependent upon them.

On top of this, my daughter-in-law’s parents are indigent, unemployable and completely dependent upon them. As of now, they are living with them and providing daily child care for their daughter — better than paying both a nanny and the parents’ expenses in a separate domicile — but a tough situation in a small apartment. The parents are only in their late 50’s.

But wait, there’s more. My daughter-in-law is objecting to my son’s desire to obtain a post-nuptial agreement, designed to segregate what is left of his inheritance from marital assets; in fact, she has indicated that she will only feel they are “true partners” if he allows her to share equally in his assets.

So far, my son has resisted, and seems determined to hold the line on this; she has reluctantly agreed, but has yet to see a lawyer. I’m not optimistic that a lawyer will be helpful in this case. But my understanding is that in California, assets brought into a marriage are excluded in a divorce settlement, particularly in a short-term marriage.  

Finally, she is very determined to buy an expensive house which, to me, seems like an end run around the postnup, as once that capital goes into a home purchase, it becomes a “marital asset.”

Despite this history, which makes her sound like an unrelenting gold digger, she is a nice person, loves and cares for her daughter and, I hope, my son. She just seems to have an astonishingly casual attitude toward money — if it’s there, spend it! (Or, in the case of college, even if it’s not there.)

I realize that there are all kinds of problems here not just the cockamamie surrogacy one, but I would appreciate your perspective and wisdom on the tricky financial intricacies here.

Sincerely,

Concerned Mother-in-Law

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

Dear Concerned,

The gods will judge us for the choices we make. They will also judge us for judging others for the choices they make. The best way forward is to think carefully about the former, and do as little as possible of the latter.

With that in mind, let’s assume that her parents are good people, and that your son and daughter-in-law are happy to help her parents, unless we have any other reason to suspect otherwise. Child-care can cost up to $22,000 a year in San Francisco, so it’s also a blessing to have them to help take care of their child while they are at work. Multigenerational households are not unusual in many cultures. Working in a start-up can be lucrative, and having studied at a prestigious university can open doors, whether it’s through smoke and mirrors or not.

I agree with the first part of your daughter-in-law’s position. It’s her body and her choice. Whether or not she considers herself a feminist, she and she alone gets to choose whether or not she wants to bear another child. All people should have agency over their own bodies, despite constant interference in this most basic of civil rights. One thing I know for sure: Childbirth and reproductive rights and finances are not two separate issues that exist in isolation of each other. They are not. The cost of surrogacy can range from $90,000 to $130,000 in California, and much less in other states.


If your worst fears are realized about their gulf in priorities, the bounds of this marriage will be tested to breaking point.

And so to you son. He too has a choice to make on how to spend his inheritance, or not. I understand that his wife may wish to explore the financial requirements of surrogacy, but inheritance is deemed separate rather than marital property for a reason. This is money that the bequeather wished your son to have and use as he sees fit. If his inheritance is seen as a jar on the mantel that can be dipped into at will, it will soon fritter away to nothing. If your daughter-in-law’s financial requests are part of a larger pattern, of course it worries me that your son’s inheritance may drained at the request.

Ultimately, it’s a much bigger conversation than surrogacy or even your daughter-in-law’s student debt. And that too is where my concern lies. Your daughter-in-law must weigh up the pros/cons of having a child by surrogacy, assuming your son agrees to pay for it, with the pros/cons of having another child at all. Your son must balance his desire for a second child with the cost of surrogacy. We can’t answer those questions for them. If your worst fears are realized about their gulf in priorities, the bounds of this marriage will be tested to breaking point.

Maintaining his $1 million as separate property, given the highly emotive issue they are grappling with, seems like a wise and fair move to me. Your son may say, “Your body, your choice. My inheritance, my choice.” Sometimes, such directness and bluntness is required. It’s not a pretty or easy conversation, whatever way you decide to embark upon it. But it’s better than they both draw lines in the sand now — without apology — on how far they are willing to compromise, and what their expectations and plans are for how they see their family and finances moving forward.

Delaying such conversations rarely leads to a better result.

The Moneyist:When my parents died, my sisters and I split their estate. I chose a painting that may be worth $50,000. Should I tell them?

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I have a First World problem: I earn $500K, and have $1 million in assets. Should I buy a $30K bracelet during a global pandemic?

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I have a mundane First World problem that may or may not warrant your attention. But I read your column, and thought you could help me. It’s something that has been troubling me for some time. Should I buy a $30,000 piece of jewelry?

I have a $500,000 stable annual income, no debt, my kids have their private college tuition and retirement fully funded, and I have an additional $1 million in investable assets in various bank and brokerage accounts. My husband and I are in our late 40s, early 50s.

We have always lived a financially disciplined lifestyle. We avoid impulse buys, while spending liberally on things we truly enjoy and care about, including annual multi-week vacations for the family, organic food, home upgrades for our hobbies, and supporting our favorite charities.


‘The good news is, this particular brand of jewelry has been holding its value very well over a long horizon.’

I personally adore quality designer jewelry, and get a little thrill every time I look at them on my wrist and finger. I have never spent $30,000 on one piece of jewelry, and I feel some guilt spending that much money on something primarily for myself, not the family.

This particular piece, a bracelet, has been on my radar since 2019, and I found myself coming back to it time and again. I spent hours following online discussion threads, researching its resale value (in case my daughter doesn’t want it) and insurance against loss, etc.

The good news is, this particular brand of jewelry has been holding its value very well over a long horizon; in fact, it boasts the highest resale value in the last couple of years, according to top luxury resale and consignment sites.

However, I just can’t bring myself to pull the trigger: spending almost 3% of our investable assets on a piece of jewelry just feels very excessive to me. I tell myself to reconsider in a few years when we get to a higher net worth to make the purchase easier to justify and stomach.

My husband said I should buy it sooner, and enjoy it for a few more years. I realize the jewelry aspect makes this a highly personal-preference question. I guess a more generic question could be, does a $30,000 discretionary spend sound reasonable in our financial situation?

A Bracelet Lover

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com, and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.

Dear Bracelet Lover,

Before the world and its mother comes down on you like a ton of bricks for asking this question during a pandemic — and before said world and its mother comes down on me for answering your question — I will say that I find your letter curious. Not “$30,000 bracelet” curious. But curious, nonetheless.

The reason: I don’t believe this magnificent, guilt-ridden obsession is really about the bracelet at all. The object of your desire could be anything: It could be a Tesla Model 3 or a used GT-R. It could be a Fabergé egg, aluminum siding, or even a $30,000 Hermès Kelly clutch bag.

It’s extravagant in the way a motor vehicle or kitchen reno is extravagant. Did you know the average cost of a light vehicle in the United States is over $40,000? You can’t drive a $30,000 bracelet, but you can wear one and drive a $10,000 car to get you from A to B. Who’s more mundane now?


‘The reason: I don’t believe this magnificent, guilt-ridden obsession is really about the bracelet at all. The object of your desire could be anything.’

I get it. There is a thrill in buying something so outrageously out of your price range. How will that make you feel? What kind of connection will you have to this object? Will other people notice it? Will you tell them how much it cost? Would owning it confirm any privately-held ambitions you have for yourself?

You are not just buying a $30,000 bracelet. You are, perhaps, buying your way out of an old way of seeing yourself. That may or may not last. Or maybe you truly believe that it will bring you joy as a family heirloom, and you can resell it at the same or a higher value, if a prospective buyer or the real world come knocking.

Will wearing such an item give you more confidence to sail past the snootiest members of your tennis club or the maître d’ at the most popular Michelin restaurant in town? Please know that I’m not speaking about you here. I’m talking about anyone who splashes out, during a pandemic or not.

About the pandemic. Researching this purchase may lift your spirits, and actually help you escape the mundane. It may or may not be a coincidence that you choose now to do something so bold and new. It’s a $30,000 sop to coronavirus. A million-dollar spit in the ocean during a truly difficult year.


For some people, spending $30,000 on one luxury item is a way of showing their spouse or, indeed, themselves that they are worth that much.

For some people, spending $30,000 on one luxury item is a way of showing their spouse or, indeed, themselves that they are worth that much. The diamond industry, for better or for worse, is based on that conceit. You need a rock on your finger to show the world that it’s true love.

For others, it’s about showing the world that you can’t mess with them and, like Leona Helmsley, the Queen of Mean, will show the world there are no little people, only big handbags — like this woman who sued a country club in New Jersey after a waiter spilled wine on her $30,000 Hermès Kelly clutch bag.

Would I spend $30,000 on a piece of jewelry if I were in your position? Probably not. Should you? That’s not for me to say. That’s for you to find out. The great Suze Orman would probably give you a “yay” or “nay” on the matter, but I’m not Suze Orman. That’s not my gig, nor is it my style.

I’ll tell you what is my style: A pair of chocolate brown Donna Karan trousers that I bought for a friend’s wedding in New York 20 years ago. I had traveled here from Dublin. A friend took me to Saks Fifth Avenue. I was fresh out of college, and thought, “How expensive could they be?”


You have formed an attachment to this bracelet, or at least to the idea of this bracelet. Let that go for a moment. What else you could do with $30,000?

I rolled up to the cash desk after they were adjusted three ways from Sunday, and the clerk told me they were $450. I handed over my fresh-out-college credit card and watched in horror as the cashier rung up the equivalent of one month’s rent. I was Jason, and those threads were my golden fleece.

I loved those dress pants. They moved like slow motion. I cared for them like priceless silk and, one day, I dropped them into a dry cleaners in Dublin. I noticed some lights were out that day, but I paid no heed. It was 2008. The dry cleaners went bankrupt, and padlocked its doors. I never saw those Donna Karan trousers again.

What has all that got to do with your $30,000 bracelet? Three things. 1. This piece of jewelry has something to teach you, and you don’t have to buy it to learn what that is. 2. This is a trouser- and judgment-free zone. 3. Our monetary dilemmas are rarely about what we think they’re about.

You have formed an attachment to this bracelet, or at least to the idea of this bracelet. Let that go for a moment. What else you could do with $30,000? Something different, but equally novel that perhaps could also have an impact? You don’t even have to spend the money on you.

Buy or don’t buy it. Remember this: However it makes you feel, you can feel that way without it. Whatever properties, provenance or millesimal fineness this piece of jewelry holds, your own qualities as a human being outweigh it. Whatever obsession it sparks in you, you can out-spark it.

The Moneyist: Before I give my fiancée a $7,000 diamond engagement ring, I want her to promise to bequeath it to my daughter

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The Moneyist: ‘The thought of her keeping these ill-gotten funds just chaps my behind’: My granddaughter, 7, lives with me — yet her mother received her stimulus





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My son, 18, says I should hand over the $1,400 adult-dependent stimulus. He claims it belongs to him. Who’s right?

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Dear Quentin,

We’re having a debate in our house regarding the latest stimulus payment. I claim head of household and have two 18-year-old adult dependents that I claim on my taxes. I received a $1,400 stimulus for each of us. My 18-year-old son claims that I must give him this money stating that it is meant to be given to the adult dependent.

I say it’s not meant for him, as I claim him as a dependent on my taxes because I pay more than half of his household expenses (actually all of his expenses) and this money will be used to offset the expense of raising him. If you have any information you can share to shed some light on the debate at hand, I’d much appreciate it.

I keep searching the internet for some proof that I must give him this money but keep coming up empty-handed.

Fingers crossed

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com, and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.

Dear FC,

If the money was meant for your son’s use, it would have been sent to your son. The clue is in the wire transfer. He is a dependent and, as such, the money is meant to be used for his care. They are emergency funds to be used for food, clothing, utilities, and anything else that adds to the cost of running a household and, yes, stimulating the economy.

Let’s assume your son is correct in his belief that the money is for his use, and could (or should) be used for his own expenditures — from meals out with friends to new sneakers. In that case, he should be of independent means and pay for everything else: rent, food, transportation. I have a feeling that $1,400 would be used up pretty, pretty, pretty fast.

If you have a balance on your credit card for family purchases, what reason would your son have for you not using part of the total economic stimulus payment to pay that balance off? This is an opportunity to lay bare the economics of running a household, so your son can have a bird’s eye view on how to manage a budget, and the costs of each family member.


‘The problem with putting food in the cupboards: Some kids think it appears there magically. And I don’t only mean that the food is conjured up through some act of existential bookkeeping.’


— The Moneyist

The problem with putting food in the cupboards: Some kinds think it appears there magically. And I don’t only mean that the food is conjured up through some act of existential bookkeeping, but that it actually makes its way from the supermarket bags to the cupboards without any human intervention whatsoever. It takes time to earn the money, shop and to put those groceries away.

As an adult dependent over the age of 16, your son did not qualify for the first two stimulus checks. Under President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, however, parents may claim their adult children as dependents. The amount is based on your income (payments fall for individuals earning $75,000 a year and up and couples making $160,000 a year or more).

The $1,4000 is not based on your son’s circumstances and, as such, the money should be used at your discretion. If you can afford it, however, I suggest talking through your son’s priorities and working with him on how he could spend all or part of the $1,400. It may be that you can help your son feel empowered to spend it on his own upkeep.

But — and this is a big “but” — if he wants you to buy necessities while he uses the money for his own enjoyment, that’s called “pocket money” not an economic impact payment, and that’s something he is given as a child or needs to earn himself. If you decide upon a potential compromise, the final answer will be determined by your son’s own financial priorities.

The Moneyist: I’m a farmer in my late 30s, live a frugal lifestyle, and my son has a disability. Should I pay extra on my mortgage — or save for retirement?

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These money and investing tips can help you decide whether to ‘sell in May and go away’

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Don’t miss these top money and investing features:

Sell in May and go away? Not so fast. These money and investing stories, popular with MarketWatch readers over the past week, can help you position your portfolio as the U.S. stock market enters its typically weaker six-month stretch — although that certainly wasn’t the case in 2020. So while it makes sense to seek out market sectors that are stronger in the summer months, it doesn’t change the fact that time in the market, and not market-timing, has been the most reliable creator of wealth.



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