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My mom added me to her bank accounts before she died. Am I legally or morally obliged to disclose these accounts to my siblings?

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My mom recently passed away.

I have taken care of my mom’s finances for the last 10 years. It was always her money, but I made sure all her bills were paid. She lived in her own house until about 7 months ago. She then moved in with me. She was 89 years old and could not take care of herself any longer.


Do I need to report this to the probate lawyer? More importantly, do I need to tell my 3 siblings about the money in these accounts?

For the last 10 years, I have taken care of paying her bills, so mom put me on all of her checking/savings accounts. My mom trusted me to take care of all her finances as well as all aspects of her life/care, and any house repairs/problems.

As I am joint on her banking accounts, do I need to report this to the probate lawyer? More importantly, do I need to tell my 3 siblings about the money in these accounts? If I am joint on her accounts does that make me the beneficiary, and does it need to be disclosed?

My sisters are bugging me about mom’s accounts. I haven’t told them anything. Mom didn’t want me to talk to them about her money, and I never have until now. What should I do? Am I legally bound to disclose the accounts?

Thank you for your advice.

Daughter/Sister

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

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

Dear Daughter/Sister,

I’m sorry for your loss, and I am glad you had this time to spend with your mother, and take care of her needs. It’s not easy, and some families can take such a commitment by one child for granted. You did your mother a great service, and I hope you take solace in the fact that you did everything in your power to make her final years comfortable, and free from loneliness.

You write that your mother “put me” on these accounts and you say “I am joint” on the accounts. First off, establish whether you are a “joint owner” on these bank accounts or an “authorized signer.” There’s a big difference between the two. With the former, you are the beneficiary of these accounts, and they do not go through probate. Not so, with the latter.


‘First off, establish whether you are a joint owner on these bank accounts or an authorized signer.’


— The Moneyist

Let’s proceed on the basis that you are a co-owner. Given the decade-long commitment to your mother and her wish for you to keep the contents of these accounts private, I see no moral or legal imperative to acquiesce to your siblings, and give them a full forensic accounting. To what end? The only reason would be if this was their money too. It’s not.

Bottom line: If your mother wanted you to be the beneficiary of those accounts, intentionally added you as a co-owner of those accounts — rather than as an authorized signer — and made clear to you that she wished you to have this money after she passed by not revealing the details, your family should respect your mother’s wishes.

Still, situations such as this can be tricky. “Transfers on death” are widely regarded as a more secure way of passing on bank accounts to a chosen friend or relative, and can also help avoid tax pitfalls that come with the inheritance of joint accounts. That said, transfers on death do not give third parties ownership during the person’s lifetime.

According to the National Law Review, making an adult child a joint owner of an account is regarded as the “poor man’s will” primarily because of the myriad problems that can arise over whether it was merely a convenience account set up to pay bills, but not actually meant to be left to the care giver in question. “Litigation can, and frequently does, ensue.” It poses three questions:

1. What was the source of the account? “If the deceased owner was the sole source of funding, the account is more likely to be viewed as a convenience account, with the joint designation intended merely as a means to ensure the deceased owner’s expenses were paid while he or she was alive, rather than a true joint account,” the NLR says.

2. What was the money used for? “If the account was used solely for the deceased owner’s expenses, it is more likely to be viewed as a convenience account,” it adds. “The living joint owner’s use of the account, however, is strong evidence that the deceased owner considered the account to be a ‘true’ joint account.”


‘Always err on the side of transparency. That means full disclosure to the probate attorney.’


— The Moneyist

3. And, finally, when was the account set up? “If the account was created long before the deceased owner’s death, it is probably easier for the living owner to argue that the deceased owner knew what he or she was doing, was less susceptible to any influence,” the publication adds. But the opposite could also be true. Therefore, any paper trails to support your case would be useful.

There are a lot of moving parts here. Always err on the side of transparency. That means full disclosure to the probate attorney. He or she can assess all the documents, and ensure that all legal issues are addressed in a fair and proper manner. Your siblings would be less likely, in theory anyway, to suspect that any undue influence or financial malfeasance has occurred.

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My boyfriend inherited a home and $700K. He pays me $500 monthly rent. Should I ask him for $86K to pay off my condo?

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Dear Quentin,

I have lived with my boyfriend in my home for over 20 years. We never married, and I have three siblings. I also own another condo in the Caribbean, which I paid for myself.

My boyfriend inherited a home from his dad in the South and a large sum of money, just over $700,000. We just got back from this inherited home. He is still deciding if he/we should keep it.

I owe $86,000 on my current home, and my boyfriend pays me $500 a month rent and he pays the electric and cable bill. We also mutually share groceries. I appreciate all his financial help.


‘His ex-wife will get half of his pension and Social Security in Connecticut. I will not receive that as we were never married.’

I am 65 and get a monthly pension of $800 and receive $1,800 Social Security every month.Together, we own three condos. I have no savings, and own two properties.

He is divorced with six adult grown children. I have only met two of his children out of the six. For some reason, he does not want to get involved with their cookouts and parties etc.

He is close with his children, and speaks to his ex-wife on the holidays as needed about any of the children and grandchildren. We always travel alone. His children never travel with us.

His ex-wife will get half of his pension and Social Security in Connecticut. I will not receive that as we were never married. What should I do financially to secure my future?

Should I ask him to pay off my condo balance of $86,000, and promise to leave the condo to him rather than my siblings in my will?

He does not want to get married, for some reason; he was married once and he said he does not want to do it again.

The Girlfriend

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Dear Girlfriend,

Your offer assumes that you will predecease your boyfriend, and that is not a given. If you do not die before he does, he is essentially giving you $86,000 because (a) partners should help each other out, (b) he has newfound wealth and he should spread it around, and/or (c) it’s not fair that he should have all of this dough landing in his bank account when you have had to scrimp and save all of these years. It has a faint ring of that school-days refrain, “If you give me one of your sweets, I’ll be your best friend.” In this case, you already are his best friend. So there’s no upside there.

You have been together for 20 years and you never married. The reason for that may be at least partly related to your respective financial affairs. Your boyfriend has a lot of financial responsibilities, one home (at least he had one home before his latest windfall), children, and an ex-wife, while you have two homes, and are free of your partner’s other financial burdens. He also pays you $500 rent every month, which was obviously a convenient arrangement for both of you. But it seems late in the day to draw a line connecting his financial future, that of his ex-wife’s and your own.

Sometimes, it’s good to ask for help. People often want to help, and it’s a privilege to help out a loved one. But to ask him for a chunk of his inheritance to pay off your home, especially when you have another condo in the Caribbean that you could sell, seems bad timing at best, and opportunistic at worst, which brings us back to the “I’ll be your best friend” sentiment. You are effectively asking your boyfriend for something with nothing in return. By not marrying, you have kept your finances separate. You have gotten this far on your own. There is a lot to be said for that.

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My ex-wife passed away. I’m the beneficiary on her life insurance. Her family wants me to pay her funeral expenses and won’t leave me alone

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I am 32, and just a month ago I found out that my ex-wife, whom I haven’t spoken to since we divorced, passed away tragically in a moped accident. My ex-wife had life insurance through her job. My ex-mother-in-law informed my father that my ex-wife had kept me as her beneficiary on her life-insurance policy, and her family wants the money for funeral costs, bills, etc.

Not only did my ex-wife have me on her policy as the primary (and only) beneficiary, she updated my home address on the policy after we divorced. Also, I found out through the insurance company that my ex-wife had two term life-insurance policies, one for me and one for my ex-sister-in-law.

I blocked my ex-in-laws, and now I received a threatening voicemail from a blocked number, so I’ve taken it upon myself to notify the authorities. I live in New York, I am remarried, and my divorce was very simple and easy. We left the marriage with what we came into it with. The life-insurance company approved the check in my name, and is sending it to my home.

Am I legally in the clear? I have not spoken to or bothered these people once since we divorced five years ago. I just want to be left alone and move on with my life.

Thank you very much in advance.

Best regards,

Fed-Up Ex-Husband

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 Fed Up,

First, I’ll deal with your life insurance concerns, and then the subject of your ex-wife’s funeral expenses.

The life-insurance policy was between your ex-wife and her insurer. It’s possible to overturn a life-insurance policy if it explicitly goes against the terms of a divorce decree, as happened in this case, but that too was a complicated lawsuit. Some states do have statutes that can revoke such beneficiary arrangements.

In “Kaye Melin and Metropolitan Life Insurance,” the children of the deceased were awarded the proceeds from the life-insurance policy, not the ex-wife who was named as beneficiary on the agreement. In that case, the law presumed that what her ex-husband wanted after their divorce was incorrect.

The ruling stated: “Thus, if a person designates a spouse as a life insurance beneficiary and later gets divorced, Minnesota law provides that the beneficiary designation is automatically revoked. At least twenty-eight other states have enacted similar revocation-upon-divorce statutes.”


‘I’m reluctant to say that you are ‘in the clear,’ given previous court rulings, and statutes in some states on the revocation of named beneficiaries post-divorce.’

I’m reluctant to say that you are “in the clear,” given previous court rulings, and statutes in some states on the revocation of named beneficiaries post-divorce. In your case, it seems clearer that your ex-wife wanted you to be the beneficiary. She did, as you say, update your address. It would be hard to see a more explicit sign of her intentions than that.

“Unless the policyholder of the life-insurance plan changes the beneficiary designation officially, the people originally named will remain the beneficiaries through the life of the policy,” according to Heban, Murphree and Lewandowski, a law firm in Toledo, Ohio. “Even if the policyholder was not on speaking terms with the individual upon his or her death, that beneficiary would still receive the income.”

“In the case of someone who divorced and remarried, the policy may name the first spouse as beneficiary. If the policyholder never changed the policy to reflect the divorce and remarriage, the ex-spouse could end up with the benefit. This can cause the current spouse and any children from the second marriage to dispute the beneficiary designation on the policy,” it adds.

But much, I suspect, would depend on what state you live in, and the specifics of your case.

On a separate issue, it’s difficult to glean from your letter whether your in-laws had little funds to pay for the funeral expenses, or were mad as hell that you were listed as beneficiary and felt you should contribute, or both. On the one hand, it seems like they are not in a state of mind to be reasonable and, chances are, if you did engage it would lead to further demands and acrimony.

Perhaps you could talk to your ex-wife’s lawyer and see if there is enough money to cover the costs of her funeral and, if not, you could make a contribution. But given the alleged harassing phone calls, their anger and grief, and their antipathy toward you, you would need to have all correspondence go through the attorney and refrain from any direct communication.

There is no excuse for their taking their grief out on you. Still, spare a thought for her family. If you are fed up, imagine how they feel.

The Moneyist: My boyfriend talked me into depositing my paychecks into his bank account, and paying for a car in his name. What can I do?

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These money and investing tips can help you when inflation is burning a hole in your wallet

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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, focus on helping you make sense of the recent spike in U.S. inflation. Understand how rising prices can affect your investment portfolio, and taking appropriate steps now to respond, can prevent unpleasant surprises later.



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