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‘My husband burned through all of our finances. If we divorce, I don’t want him to get one penny.’ How can I protect myself?

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Dear Quentin,

I live in New Jersey. My husband and I have had a very rocky relationship and are contemplating divorce for the second time. My parents are both elderly but in good health, thankfully.

It has been suggested that when they die, I will inherit some money (about $50,000), plus an estimated $300,000 profit that would come from the sale of their home, which I would split with my sister. Is there a way I could put that in a trust or someplace where my husband would not be able to access in the event we actually file for divorce?

He burned through all of our finances and has left us with nothing for the future, so you can understand why I would be scared. And, of course, if we choose to divorce, I don’t want my husband to get one penny.

Ready to Call it a Day

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

Dear Ready,

First, the good news. Inheritance is not treated as community property in most states. (New Jersey is an equitable distribution state.) It’s left to you and you alone, according to the law. Your husband does not get a look in. So if he has any ambitions about spending this money in order to keep him in the lifestyle to which he would like to become accustomed, he can think again.

There are some caveats to this, however. “This rule only holds true so long as you have never ‘gifted’ part of it to your spouse,” according to attorney Stephen J. Kaplan in Colts Neck, N.J. What if your husband claimed that you did? “There would need to be some significant evidence of a gift in order for your spouse to succeed on his or her claim in this regard.”


Never commingle inheritance received before or during a marriage, and always keep the money in a separate bank account.

“If you, for example, deposited the entire inheritance that you received into a joint bank account, and if that money stayed in the joint account for a significant period of time and then there was a divorce, the court will likely treat that money as a joint marital asset, having been ‘gifted’ roughly equally from you to your spouse,” he added.

Never commingle inheritance received before or during a marriage, and always keep the money in a separate bank account. You don’t need a trust to ensure this money remains yours should you decide to divorce. This is a rule specifically made for inheritances. It does not, for example, apply to work-related bonuses or, indeed, lottery winnings.

Good luck figuring out a way forward as a married woman or a divorcée. Your concerns about an inheritance that is hopefully years away likely speaks volumes about your doubts about this man and your marriage. Whatever you decide, choosing a life partner is the most important quality-of-life decision you will make, and often the most financially important one too.

The Moneyist:My boyfriend, 9 years my junior, does not want to move out of my home should I die before him. My adult children are not amused

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‘She is a financial idiot and partier’: I loaned my sister $4,780 for a lawyer during her divorce. I am still chasing repayments

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Two years ago, my sister called me from a divorce-settlement meeting without a lawyer. Her soon-to-be ex-spouse had a lawyer there. She was being pressured into giving up her portion of his pension that she was legally entitled to (their marriage was over 20 years). She was freaking out, in tears and realized she needed a lawyer.

I told her to leave that meeting and get a lawyer. Afterward, she asked me for money to pay for the lawyer and promised to pay me back. I testified for her regarding other marital financial issues (I was executor of our father’s estate, in which her husband had made false statements on his entitlements to some of her inheritance). She thanked me again and again in front of her lawyer and promised to repay me.


‘She borrowed another $5,000 from an aunt for a child-custody battle, which she lost.’

I am not wealthy and did not have $4,780 on hand, but I have good credit and used my line of credit. It will be two years in May and I have not received any payment. She was supposed to give me some monthly payments and lump sums at tax-refund time. Last year’s excuse for no tax-refund reimbursement was that she borrowed another $5,000 from an aunt for a child-custody battle, which she lost.

She earns $90,000 to $95,000 a year, but this year’s excuse is that she is in arrears for child-support payments. She is not destitute; she is a financial idiot and partier. I do have texts saying she will pay me back and others that say she has no money. She swore before Thanksgiving this year that she would start paying me in January. January came and went, no payment.

During a text discussion in early February, she informed me about her child-support arrears (so no lump payment from her tax-refund again) and is only planning $25 per month repayments when she could. That plan doesn’t cover the interest on the loan, and even if I was OK with covering the interest, it would be more than 20 years.

I told her that was not acceptable, and that she left me no choice. I didn’t say what action I would take. So I am planning to take her to small-claims court, and garnish her wages. The Virginia statute of limitations is two years, so I need to do this by early May. Now the financial idiot sent me a check for $25.

If I cash it, would it extend the statute of limitations? Should I cash it? What is the best approach? Also, she is a social-media junkie; on her Facebook and Instagram, there are multiple examples of vacations, drunken outings and other expenditures since May 2019 that could have helped to dig her out of the financial heap.

There is a capability to reimburse, but zero will. Any advice is appreciated.

Deadbeat’s Sibling

Dear Sibling,

Only gamble what you can afford to lose. Only invest what you can afford to lose. Only lend what you can afford to lose. I don’t believe you will be getting this money, so I advise you to write it off as a bad debt sooner rather than later. Sure, try the small-claims court, but failing that there will come a time when you will have to say enough is enough: “I tried to do the right thing, she didn’t repay it, and I can’t change her.” I do have questions about what you hope to achieve.


‘I see two unhealthy patterns: Your sister’s grifting and your gifting. Each serves a purpose.’

If she repaid you the principal sum, would you then start to feel similar rumblings of injustice over the interest? If she repaid you with interest, would you then suffer pangs of annoyance over the hoops of fire she made you jump through in order to be repaid? After all, you were doing her the favor, right? How dare she put you through this. And, thirdly, what is this $4,780 worth to you? It’s already been two years of self-righteous fury, stress and anxiety.

None of this should come as a surprise to you. I see two unhealthy patterns: your sister’s grifting and your gifting. But each of these serves a purpose. Yes, your sister reactivates the statute of limitations by repaying a small part of the loan and, thereby, acknowledging that she still owes you money — five years for breaching a written contract or three for an oral contract, but talk to a lawyer about that. When it does, this tortured game of cat and mouse begins anew.

How far are you willing to go to retrieve this debt? How long will you pursue it? And aside from the prospect of knowing that you are still in with a shot of getting the $4,780 back, what do you get out of feeling perpetually angry and frustrated at your sister? Does it reaffirm that you are the principled, upstanding one in the family? Or does pursuing your sister for this money remind her on a daily basis that she appears to be incapable of keeping a promise?


‘In order to truly move on, you too need to take responsibility for lending it to her in the first place.’


— The Moneyist

I ask you these questions for a reason. Of course, she’s behind on child support. You already know that your sister is a dramatic (and possibly irresponsible and/or reckless) person who has learned how to leverage her alleged victimhood to her advantage. She may see herself as a victim of a bad marriage, cruel husband, biased judicial system, and any other circumstance that does not include her own choices and actions.

Your sister may or may not accept responsibility for borrowing this money, but in order for you to truly move on, you too need to take responsibility for lending it to her in the first place. Few could fault you for wanting this money back. But in the game of life, you already win. You are the sister who endeavors to keep her word, look out for others, and be the adult in the room. Your sister loses. You get to be right. Your sister is wrong. And, for exactly $4,780, everyone else will see that.

I understand that you would like this money back, but many people lead uneven, tumultuous lives. You may also ask yourself if this unrelenting pursuit of money from such a person serves you and does what I hope you originally had intended to do by telling your sister to walk out of those divorce talks and hire a lawyer: help your sibling and, in some small way, help make her chaotic life easier.

You are not a credit company or debt collector. You are, for better or for worse, her sister.

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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Americans can’t file their income taxes fast enough — but they should brace for some unwelcome news in their 2020 returns

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It seems like you can’t get people to file their 2020 tax returns fast enough.

People are filing their taxes at a blistering pace so far this year, underscoring how serious Americans are about getting any tax refund due or any stimulus-check money they missed last year. The IRS began accepting and processing 2020 tax returns slightly later than usual because its systems needed a breather after distributing a second round of stimulus checks in late December.

However, there is some bad news that many Americans should be prepared for when they finally get their return: The average refund so far is $2,880 — as unemployed skyrocketed in 2020 due to restrictions on businesses and shelter-in-place orders due to COVID-19 — significantly less than the $3,125 average refund at roughly the same point last year.

New IRS statistics released Thursday, when put in context, show people are submitting their individual tax returns at a much greater rate than they were early into last year’s tax season. As of Feb. 19, only eight full days into the 2021 filing season, the IRS received 34.69 million individual returns, agency statistics show.

That’s 30.5% fewer returns than the 49.8 million received by Feb. 21 last year — but that was 26 days into the 2020 filing season and weeks before conformation that the coronavirus had really taken hold in the U.S. Simple math, in fact, suggests the volume of individual returns this year.


Simple math suggests the volume of individual returns this year.

When dividing the nearly 34.7 million returns so far this year by eight filing days, the result is 4.3 million returns filed per day. The 49.8 million returns filed last year, divided by 26 filing days comes to 1.91 million returns per day.

Put another way: The IRS has received approximately 21% more individual returns than the agency received last year by Feb. 7, which was 12 days into the tax season last year. Right now, Americans are facing an April 15 deadline to file and pay their taxes (June 15 in Texas), unless they get an extension to Oct. 15, which gives them more time to file their return, but not to pay.

However, they don’t yet factor in refunds that include payments for the Earned Income Tax Credit, a powerful anti-poverty tax credit geared towards low- and moderate-income working families. Refunds incorporating the EITC and the Additional Child Tax Credit will start hitting bank accounts during the first week of March, according to the IRS.

After the Internal Revenue Service started accepting tax returns on Friday, Feb. 12, the agency took in 55 million returns in the first weekend alone, Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Charles Rettig said this week. These 55 million tax returns were not just individual tax returns. They also included business returns and a variety of other returns, IRS spokesman Anthony Burke said.



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‘Greed is rearing its ugly head and killing brotherly love’: My husband and his brother are at war over an inheritance from a beloved neighbor. What can we do?

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Dear Quentin,

When my husband and his only (younger) brother were growing up, a childless neighbor was very kind to them and treated them as if they were her “nephews.” They even called her “Aunt Hilda.” They also treated her like family; my husband has visited her regularly over the years. But greed is rearing its ugly head and killing brotherly love.

When my husband was away in the army 30 years ago, Aunt Hilda gave a house and a piece of property to my husband’s brother when she decided to move to another state to care for her future mother-in-law, with the written legal condition that she had a lifelong ability to return and live in the house as well, should she want to or need to.

The brother decided he didn’t really like those terms, and after living in the house for a couple of years, used the “collateral” of the property to borrow money to buy a plot of land elsewhere and build another house. The “old” house has sat vacant for 20 years, but he does the minimum to keep it from disaster. She does not stay there because it is not maintained. He has stated that he doesn’t want to do anything that will encourage her to move back into the house.


‘At first, she discussed splitting her property 50/50, then she recalled that she had already given the brother the other house and land.’

Recently, the husband of Aunt Hilda died. She is 80, and decided that she wants to write a will to leave her money and property to my husband and his brother. At first, she discussed splitting her property 50/50, then she recalled that she had already given the brother the other house and land (current value is about $400,000, no small sum).

Now Aunt Hilda says since she has already given the younger brother the other house and the land, that should be taken into consideration. The brother is sending lengthy emails to my husband trying to convince him and Aunt Hilda that the previous “early inheritance” should not be taken into consideration “because it cost him so much trouble and work.”

It is of course up to Aunt Hilda how she wants to divide up the property, and whatever that is, everybody should respect her wishes. But if she asks the brothers how to do it fairly, what do you recommend? She is 80, but she might live another 15 years and any value assigned to the brother’s house today would likely change.

There is much more that could be added as to my brother-in law’s attempts to gain more than his brother, none of which reflects well on his character. My poor husband is heartsick over his brother’s greedy behavior, especially when he should be focusing on the welfare of Aunt Hilda — who just lost her husband — and grateful that she considers to leave them anything.

Should we intervene?

The Wife

Dear Wife,

Your brother-in-law is a lot of work and his inherited property is a lot of work. In that sense at least, as God made them, he matched them.

Your brother-in-law could be less self-centered and more compassionate, and it wouldn’t do any harm if he had one charitable bone in his body. But that is not who he is, and trying to wish him to be someone other than himself is an exhausting and ill-advised endeavor. Accept him for who and what he is, and you will both enjoy more peaceful nights as a result.


Remember, if one crazy person wants to have a fight with you, and you finally relent, there are two crazy people in that fight rather than one.

Your husband regards Aunt Hilda as a beloved relative and her estate as a gift, while his brother sees her estate as a lemon that can be squeezed time and again. What would I say to his brother? “The property required a lot of work over the years, and you have benefited from the property over the same amount of time. You chose to accept this inheritance early, and it has worked out very well for you.”

If he continued to make waves? I would feel compelled to tell him that it’s just plain unreasonable to constantly push for more. The love and care he lavished on his own property has been in direct proportion to the lack of care and duty bestowed upon Aunt Hilda’s home, and for all the years he enjoyed this property, she did not. You have to be prepared to stand up for what you believe is fair.

And remember, if one crazy person wants to have a fight with you, and you relent, there will be two crazy people in that fight rather than one. For that reason, advise Aunt Hilda to hire an estate attorney to draw up the papers fairly and squarely. Lawyers are paid well to deal with difficult personalities, and they have a duty to make sure their client’s wishes are upheld.

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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