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

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I believe you recently stated that by 40, one should have three times their annual income saved for retirement. That frightened me a little. I am in my late 30s, and we have a little more than half my annual income saved in an IRA that my wife started before I knew her.

My wife and I live a fairly frugal lifestyle. We drive 12-year-old cars and have a modest house that we try to make an additional $5,000 principal payment on every year, hoping to take years of the mortgage.

When we were first married, we both worked, averaging a combined $100,000 to $120,000 per year. I work in agriculture, and my income fluctuates with market prices and the weather.


‘We soon had our first child, and it became necessary for my wife to leave her job to be with our son. He has a disability that will likely mean he will be living with us for our entire lives.’

We soon had our first child, and it became necessary for my wife to leave her job to be with our son. He has a disability that will likely mean he will be living with us for our entire lives. After we’re gone, we will likely have to set up care for him for the rest of his own life.

My parents have graciously set up an investment account with a substantial initial payment for him that will likely help him for a long time, but maybe not 30-plus years, depending on how long he will outlive us.

We are now trying to find places we can save more, and put the money into some kind of retirement investment. Now, with just my income, we usually net around $60,000 to $70,000 per year. I have experienced one devastating year where my crop was destroyed and I only had $20,000 in crop insurance to live on that year, so I’m always worried about not having a cushion easily available.

I guess my questions are: Should we put the money we’ve been paying down the mortgage into retirement, and how much might we need in our retirement with three mouths to feed? Is retirement even a possibility at this point? Farmers often work well past 65, and I am worried that’s where we’re headed.

Father, Husband & Farmer

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

Dear Father, Husband & Farmer,

Money milestones — the amount of money you should have saved by a particular age, according to advisers and financial-services companies — vary. Wildly. They are goals. Something to shoot for. They also present an ideal scenario in a perfect world where all things are equal, and life goes perfectly as planned. Life rarely, if ever, goes perfectly as planned — or according to any plans. Money milestones are both useful guides and, oftentimes, unrealistic ones.

The average retirement savings for people aged 30 to 34 is $21,731, according to the Federal Reserve Board Survey of Consumer Finances. It rises to $48,710 by ages 35 to 39. Even that figure gives me pause, as much as it gives me hope. But as you can see, it’s a moving target — and given that millions of people cannot even access savings in an emergency, there is a wide gap between the rich and poor, and everyone in between.

Every situation is different. You are young and your circumstances will fluctuate. Some years will likely surprise you on the upside. Many people in their 30s are not even thinking about retirement, so you’re already ahead. “How much you need in your retirement account is a function of your expected expenses,” says Brian Walsh Jr., a senior financial adviser at Walsh & Nicholson Financial Group. “No two financial situations are the same, and retirement is expense driven.”

”Set up a budget based on your current income and expenses and find out where the majority of your cash flow is going,” he adds. “You are still young, so you should have plenty of time to save for retirement. From there, based on the nature of your business, establishing an emergency fund should be a top priority, followed by establishing a trust for your child and then saving for retirement.” Working with a financial planner on a blueprint may help put your mind at ease.

You are paying interest with your mortgage, so I support your decision to pay extra every year. That in itself is an enviable position for many people. Do what you can afford to do, and stick to your goals. They may also fluctuate based on need.

You have a mortgage and retirement savings. You’re already ahead. Be proud of what you have achieved: From what you say in your letter, you have worked hard and faced unexpected challenges with equanimity and maturity.

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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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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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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