Updated on 02.20.11

Reader Mailbag: Vitamin B and Iron

Trent Hamm

What’s inside? Here are the questions answered in today’s reader mailbag, boiled down to five word summaries. Click on the number to jump straight down to the question.
1. Older parents with money problems
2. Mother-in-law crisis
3. Reverse mortgage question
4. Is a graduate degree worthwhile?
5. Getting started with debt recovery
6. Late life choices
7. Purchasing an upright freezer
8. Itemizing sales tax deductions
9. Dream fund and retirement fund
10. Joint bank account with mother

Several people asked me recently whether I take vitamin supplements to help out with the lack of meat and meat products in my diet at the moment. The only ones I take are two suggested by my dietitian: a vitamin B supplement (to help get some B-12) and an iron supplement. I don’t take a multivitamin.

I feel fine with just those two, several months into the change. I think they more or less replace stuff I’m not getting otherwise.

Q1: Older parents with money problems
My parents are on a fixed income with many debts to pay off. They have basically nothing in savings. They have 2 mortgages on the house (which they can’t sell without going into a lot of debt), a car payment, and old credit card bills they are still paying off. They are able to pay these bills every month, but they barely have anything left after that (just enough for groceries and utilities). I know they are trying to cut back on spending, so I really think the next area they need to work on is finding employment.

My dad is currently retired w/ a pension and social security payments coming in. His work experience has been focused in one specific field that is not really hiring anymore. My mom has hardly any work experience. Neither of them is college educated. They are both older (60’s) and pretty overweight, so really physical jobs are not an option. They said that they looked for jobs much earlier in the year and have since given up. They seem to think that they will never find anything, but I don’t know if I believe that.

The local community college waives tuition for seniors. I think this could possibly be an option if they find something relevant to take classes in. I don’t think either of my parents knows how to put together a resume and cover letter or how to answer interview questions to make themselves stand out. I think I could help them market themselves to employers if they’d be willing to look for jobs again. I admit that they would probably be up against many other people for any open positions, but if they don’t try they definitely won’t get anything.

What do you think? Am I missing something that I could do or that they could be doing to improve their situation?
– Dana

Obviously, there are several things they can be doing to improve their situation. As you mentioned, they could be attempting to educate themselves. They could also be willing to “settle” and work other positions that they might not otherwise consider, like as a cashier at a grocery store.

The problem is the old maxim that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink. You might have a great idea for your parents to improve their situation, but if they don’t want to do it, you can’t force them to do so. They have to make the decision for themselves.

There are a lot of entry-level jobs available out there. You just have to be willing to swallow your pride and do the best you can with such a job.

Q2: Mother-in-law crisis
I’m 23 and my husband is 25. My father-in-law, “Tom,” passed away in March of 2010. He had no life insurance, no savings (I mean none), and a mortgage payment of about $2200 a month, and two leased cars. This left my mother-in-law, “Katie,” in dire financial straits as she has not worked outside the home since she became pregnant with my husband. I also have a brother-in-law, “Richard,” who is attending a state university about an hour away from home. We live 500 miles away.

Katie, my husband, and I decided giving up the house to foreclosure was the best bet since Katie’s income potential in the current job market with no work experience and no education makes the mortgage in no way affordable. Katie gave back one of the leased cars (not in her name), and continues to make payments on the other (in her name). We paid for expenses relating to the cremation and wake for Tom, and have made the firm decision to not help Katie out financially in any other aspect. We are working very hard to save for a house, have a solid emergency fund, and savings funds for trips, and future moving costs as my husband’s future career path requires us to move in the next 18 months.

In the almost year since Tom has died, Katie has found part-time work at Wal-Mart, and moved in with her sister. She is still struggling financially, and is missing payments on her car (her only way of getting to work) and borrowing money from her sisters for gas money. She also appears to have lost a significant amount of weight. When we see her, I spot ways in which she is spending that are causing her to make her financial struggles even more an up hill battle. She smokes heavily, takes her dog to the vet and pays for expensive medication for him, buys him expensive chew toys, and makes him meals from people food rather than the cheaper kibble. She makes meals for her sisters which I know are costly, but she’s made mention of going hungry by herself.

A huge part of me wants to sit her down (or call her since we see her rarely) and tell her to get her act together. She needs to stop spending on unnecessary things and take care of herself. However, I am told by my husband, any advice offered will be met with resistance, defensiveness, and discarded as nonsense. Every time we speak with Katie, my husband is consumed with worry. What can we do? Do we have to give up trying to guide her, and decide to let her fail on her own?
– Kelly

This story leaves me with a lot of questions. Is she actually still reeling from losing her husband? Does she have any income streams besides Wal-Mart, like any Social Security? How is her sister handling having Katie living with her, and is that a longer-term thing? Does she have her own benefits?

One thing I would strongly urge is that if you’re goign to “tell her to get her act together,” do it face to face. Doing it over the phone is begging for the “resistance, defensiveness, and discarded as nonsense” that you’re wanting to avoid because it’s very easily to not take someone seriously when they tell you to “get your act together” over the phone from 500 miles way without being involved in your day to day life.

Before you do such a thing, you need to spend some time understanding where she is right now in terms of her life. Spend some time taking a genuine interest in where she is right now and what she’s going through rather than telling her what to do. That process alone might do more good than you would ever know.

Q3: Reverse mortgage question
I am writing in regard to my husband’s parents, both 83 years old, living in a patio home that they owe $15,000.00 on. In this depressed market, could probably sell it for around $120,000.00, although might have some difficulty due to other homes in the area having been turned into rental properties in recent years. My in-laws are making ends meet, can pay their bills, but are not saving anything, I think they have around $10,000.00 in savings and he has a small life insurance policy, and I don’t think there is any other debt other than their house payment, which is $400.00 per month.

They are talking about obtaining a reverse mortgage, I guess to loosen up some more cash each month….they seem to think this will give them an additional $300.00 per month, plus end the house payment they are now making.

I do not know all details about these reverse mortgages, but it seems that what I have read is that they are great for the banks but not so great for the homeowners. I have heard that they are complex, have high fees, and should only be used as a last resort. I have also heard that when the homeowners die, that the heirs owe the money back to the bank, and that with the high fees and interest rate, the amount owed back is often much larger than the original amount borrowed.

Can you lend any insight to this issue? To me it seems like they will be putting their only true asset on the line, when they actually don’t have to have the money to get by each month. I have major reservations about this strategy, but as an in-law, feel hesitant to offer financial advice when it hasn’t been requested.
– Martha

A reverse mortgage is an arrangement between the property owners – your parents – and the institution that they take out the home mortgage from. When your parents pass on, the institution has only a legal claim to assets within their estate. They cannot come after the heirs. Now, this does mean that any inheritance you might have coming would be eaten by the reverse mortgage first.

The disadvantage of a reverse mortgage is that it’s usually loaded with fees, often adding up to 5% or more of the value of the home. This is usually rolled into the reverse mortgage. So, if you have a house assessed at $120,000, the reverse mortgage might only be worth $110,000 in total value. Often, this is paid out in the form of an annuity and sometimes paired with a small lump sum payment. What your parents are mentioning is that the money from the reverse mortgage would probably be in a lump sum – $15,000 – plus an annuity worth around $95,000 or so. That annuity pays them until the day they die. Given their age, $300 a month is not entirely unreasonable for a lifetime annuity payment.

When they die, the holder of the reverse mortgage will come at the estate for $120,000. At that point, the house will be sold and all assets will be liquidated to pay the holder of that mortgage (and anyone else your parents owe money to). Often, this completely drains an estate.

Reverse mortgages are good deals only in the sense that they can make the last few years of an elderly person’s life much more comfortable, but it often pillages the estate they leave behind, extracting far more value from that estate than the elderly folks ever got.

Q4: Is a graduate degree worthwhile?
After my daughter was born, I was fortunate to spend time as an at-home mom. Eventually, it became financially necessary for me to return to work full-time. I spent almost a year searching for a job. When I was finally offered a position, it was in a totally new field for me, and it was contingent upon my completing a graduate degree in the field (HR). I am three courses into my graduate program. The overall program costs $35,000. I will likely make between $45,000-$55,000 post-graduation, but will require additional certifications (I have read that the training courses for these certifications are between $3,000 and $5,000).

My husband and I also carry debt from his student loans ($38,000 for his undergraduate degree; he did not finish his program); a car payment of $9,000; credit card $9,500; and we owe roughly $108,500 on our home. Our combined income is $94,600. We also have daycare expenses, and our monthly take home of roughly $5700 is often quickly eaten away our monthly payments and by unexpected situations, such as two rooms of our home flooding in May.

We have looked into reducing our car payment, but could only lower it by $50/month by trading it in for a used vehicle. We are also in the process of trying to sell our home to return to renting.

I have been told that I cannot expect a raise once I complete my graduate degree. I currently make just under $40,000. Should I continue forward with my graduate degree, or should I look for other work again? I have been in my position for nine months.

What do you make of our overall financial picture?
– Cee

What are you getting out of that degree besides a piece of paper? Are you actually learning marketable skills? Are you making a lot of interpersonal connections that will help you later on? Are you building the foundation for a doctorate that might earn you even more money?

If you’re saying “no” to all of these things, then your degree program might not be worth it in your case. It would only be a piece of paper helping you to continue to hold the job you have now. Unless you plan on staying at that job for a very long time, this doesn’t add up.

On the other hand, if you said “yes” to many of those things, then you’re probably in a very good position right now. Squeeze every drop of value out of graduate school that you can, then see where that leaves you in the broader marketplace.

Q5: Getting started with debt recovery
What was the first big thing you did to kick start getting out of debt that gave you the motivation to keep going? I need to get out of debt and break the paycheck to paycheck cycle, but I lack the motivation to keep going.

– Ray

The first thing I did, honestly, is to clean out my media cabinet and my closet and go on a selling spree.

In about three weeks, I sold off most of my DVD collection, almost all of my CD collection, about two thirds of my video game collection, a vintage baseball card collection, a large collection of other trading cards, and also held a yard sale of sorts to get rid of other items that I wouldn’t really need (like excess clothing and other odds and ends).

I took every dime from that and threw it at my worst debts, eliminating two credit card debts in that process. It felt good. It felt so good, in fact, that it made me want to keep going. The Simple Dollar is the result of that, more or less.

Q6: Late life choices
My husband and I have had a wonderful life enjoying travel and helping our children with gifts and loans that we often forgave at some time in the repayment process Now we’ve reached our mid seventies with very little retirement savings. In 2008 we took our money out of the stock market because we panicked. Not bright, I know. So now all of our liquid assets, $80,000, are sitting in a money market account. We aren’t destitute. We are actually in a position to save money now. We have a net retirement income, including Social Security of $88.000 annually.

We have no debt. We live in a small house in a small town, so our expenses aren’t large. We have no long-term care insurance, but we do have medical insurance that is paid by our former employer. I’m well aware that we have prepared for our later years very poorly. I’m really embarrassed to go to a financial advisor because I know most of them in town and I don’t want them to know little we’ve saved. I know we need to invest most of our savings, but where? And how? I suppose there’s no such thing as a long-term investment at our age.
– Barb

You have $88,000 as an annual income in retirement? I’d say you’re in a very good shape for retirement, not a poor one. What scenarios are you envisioning that would require more annual income than $88,000 per year, where you have no dependents, a home that is paid for, and medical insurance that’s paid for?

I agree with you that long-term care insurance might not be a bad idea. It will likely be pretty expensive at your age, however. You may want to study what aspects of long term care are actually covered by your current health insurance policy.

I would not feel bad about the position you’re in. Yes, you have only $80,000 in liquid assets. However, you also have an income stream of $88,000 per year and a home that’s paid for. You are in far better shape than almost every other retiree in the United States.

Q7: Purchasing an upright freezer
My freezer, an old enormous Kenmore chest freezer that I purchased in 1984 has finally died. The cost of replacing the motor and perhaps upgrading the seal is not financially prudent. I have decided that I’d like to get an upright freezer as chest freezers are a little more difficult to navigate and I am not as agile as I was 25 years ago and am hoping with good care that I will get another 25 years out of this one. Any suggestions?

– Abigail

My honest suggestion is to go down to your local library and check out a copy of a recent Consumer Reports buying guide that covers freezers – I believe the 2011 edition does. Once you have that, examine some of their top selections, then purchase one of those. You may want to shop around a bit and make sure that you have someone to install it for you.

I would place it in the exact same position as your old one, as the environment there is clearly conducive to long-term freezer use (stable temperatures, lack of dust, etc.).

I can’t guarantee that any freezer will last twenty five years again, but a well-chosen freezer in a good area should last for many years to come.

Q8: Itemizing sales tax deductions
I just finished up 2010 taxes and realized that, had I kept track of all my receipts throughout the year, I would have gotten an additional $700 back just by itemizing my sales tax paid! I am still getting some money back thanks to the standard sales tax deduction but it really irritates me that I am missing out on all that “free” money. I live in Seattle, WA where the sales tax is 9.5% so it really adds up fast!

My question is regarding the organization of my receipts so that I can be better prepared to itemize my sales tax paid for my 2011 taxes. Just thinking about the amount of receipts I accumulate in a month is pretty overwhelming, not to mention keeping them organized. My idea is to have a box or something like that where all my receipts can go. Once a week I would take out the receipts, enter them in a spreadsheet, then make a copy or scan of them (since they tend to fade over time), and file them away. I know I would really have to stay on top of this or it would become an ugly mess quickly.

Can you recommend a better system than the one I am thinking of using above?
– Jen

I think that’s a perfect system. I wouldn’t change a thing about it.

My only concern is that unless you’re a big spender, it may not be an effective use of your time. If you’re already frugal, you’re not going to be sinking a great deal into sales taxes, as most foods and basic needs are exempt from sales tax.

Let’s say, hypothetically, you invest two hours a week saving receipts, scanning them, and entering the numbers into your spreadsheet. At the end of the year, you save $700 from this effort, over 104 hours. That’s about $6.90 per hour of effort throughout the year (sans taxes, of course).

You’re obviously a bright person – and a hard working one, too – to dream up such a system and implement it. I’m willing to bet you could find something that would earn you more with your time if you put your mind and effort to it.

Q9: Dream fund and retirement fund
I daydream about being financially independent just about 24 hours a day. I’ve seen you mention your “dream fund” in a few of your posts. I’m curious about at what point you would consider splitting investment money into both a retirement fund (401k and/or Roth IRA, for me, both) and a dream fund? Do you fully fund your retirement account to the $16.5k max, and then put your extra cash into the dream fund?

A little about me: I’m 25, I make 40,000 a year and live well below my means. I contribute 16% post-tax income into a company-sponsored Roth 401k (just getting used to doing this, eventually I would like to max out a Roth IRA and put the remainder in the Roth 401k) and 6% into a company sponsored 401k program to meet the company match.

I have zero debt, no car (I use public transportation), and no plans for huge purchases in the near future. My retirement funds are just getting started, with only $2,500 in them now. I also have $2,000 in an emergency fund which will be upped to about $6,000 by the end of 2011 if I stick to my budget. I am pretty proud of the trajectory I’m on savings-wise.

I know I shouldn’t be too eager to retire before 59 1/2, but I’m wondering if I should be putting some percentage of my investing capital into a non retirement fund, IE dream fund of comprised of several index funds. My dream would be to work part time and have more time and energy to focus on raising a family. When do you consider to be a good time to branch off to the dream fund, and what percentage do you allocate to it?
– Alex

I fund my retirement to the point that I’m putting away 15% of my annual income, then I contribute to my dream fund.

So, let’s say in 2010 our family brought in $70,000. Our family’s total retirement savings would thus be $10,500, divided however we choose across our retirement accounts. Beyond that, savings would go towards other things – paying off our mortgage early, saving for our “dream” (a home in the country), and so on.

Basing things as a percentage of annual income makes sure that your retirement savings is really in line with the income and lifestyle you currently have. Save too much and you’re cramping your life now. Save too little and you’re cramping your life later.

Q10: Joint bank account with mother
My question is can having a joint bank account with my elderly mother make me responsible for any of her debt when she passes. We have the joint account because she wanted me to have access to her money when she does pass so I can pay whatever bills she has and not wait for her estate to be settled. My concern is if she would have any outstanding debt i.e. credit card, etc. would I be responsible for that debt because my name is on the joint account. Would it be better if I was her financial POA and not on the account? (I’m already her executor.)

– Elaine

The laws are different in different areas, but my understanding is that when she passed on, the amount in her accounts at the time of her passing is considered part of her estate. If there are more debts out there than money in her account (or other parties who may have an interest, like people named in the will), the courts may also examine transactions up to five years in the past to determine what should be in the estate.

If this gives you great cause for concern, I would contact a lawyer in the area where your mother is living – preferably your family lawyer – and get some advice on how to best handle this situation.

If I were you, I’d want to be an executor on her will, at the very least.

Got any questions? Email them to me or leave them in the comments and I’ll attempt to answer them in a future mailbag (which, by way of full disclosure, may also get re-posted on other websites that pick up my blog). However, I do receive hundreds of questions per week, so I may not necessarily be able to answer yours.

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  1. kat says:

    Re 8 Many states do tax food-I have a thirteen pocket folder that I keep receipts in by month, and a box for current month reciepts. At tbe end of the current month, I take last years reciepts out of the folder and file the current year receipts in it. I do make copies of the ones that fade.

  2. spaces says:

    Q2 – Kelly — You’re 23 and speaking with strong judgment about your much older mother in law. Unless you make some significant changes to your tone, you are going to alienate her forever and offend her deeply. If your husband has died, you have lost your home and are shocked to find yourself destitute, when you’re grappling with shame and grief and humiliation and fear, would you want a 23 year old lecturing you? I would especially back off about the dog.

  3. Evangeline says:

    Elaine, verify your state’s laws regarding joint accounts. My parents did the exact same thing as your mom. In my state, when one account holder passes away, the funds belong to the surviving account holder. Thus, when my parents passed away the funds in their checking account belonged to me and were not part of an estate. Legally, I could keep the funds and wait for the estate to be settled in order to pay the bills. Instead I paid the bills until the money was depleted. For peace of mind and for erring on the side of the law, verify what is acceptable where you live.

  4. Sharon says:

    I agree with #2. It doesn’t sound like the MIL ia trying to take advantage of the daughter in what seems like a desperate situation. Doe the daughter know what MIL:s life is with her sister? Wow, I think there needs to be some slack cut here…

  5. Sharon says:

    And again in Q2…the dog seems to be the most supportive family member and quitting smoking is never easy, esp. while going through an emotional crisis.
    And for the daughter to say she has money saved for a house and an emergency fund while her mother is living like this is unimaginable.

  6. Nicole says:

    In regards to Question #8, it’s my understanding that one can deduct state income taxes OR state sales teaxs, not both. Am I correct in this thinking? My state, NJ, certainly collects plenty of income taxes from us, and I doubt it would be worth it to spend time keeping/filing/counting up my paid sales taxes as my income tax is most certainly the higher amount. Just want to make sure I’m on the right track here, though!

  7. Jane says:

    Yes, I also found question 2 pretty disturbing. So you can save for hypothetical trips, but you can’t help your MIL with gas money to get to work? I don’t think taking your dog to the vet and buying the dog things is excessive. Consider it a form of therapy, considering dogs provide such comfort and love. Maybe you could give her some money to start a smoking cessation program (if that’s something SHE wants to do), if it bothers you that much? I just don’t understand the firm desire not to help her in any way, considering the circumstances she finds herself in are tragic and not really her fault.

    Can you deduct any sales tax? My goodness, I’m ignorant of this and had no idea. Can you please explain the rules again on this?

  8. Johanna says:

    My, what a bunch of greedy whiners we have this week.

    I see that Kelly (Q2) is already getting piled on, and rightly so.

    Then there’s Dana (Q1) who thinks his/her parents need to go back to work (and thinks it’s necessary to mention their weight in the context of that). Dana, have they asked your advice? If not, back off.

    And Martha (Q3) is annoyed that she might not get to inherit her in-laws’ $120K house. Guess what, Martha – that’s your in-laws’ house, not yours. If they want to deprive you of that part of your inheritance so they can enjoy an extra $700/month, that’s their decision, not yours. And I say, good for them.

  9. lurker carl says:

    For the residents of states without state income tax, those folks can deduct local sales tax from their federal return. You can not deduct both, most who pay a state income tax are better off deducting that amount rather than sales tax. It’s a way of equalizing federal deductions regardless of local tax policy.

  10. Johanna says:

    @Jane: The IRS gives you a choice of deducting either sales taxes or state and local income taxes from your federal income taxes. For most people, it’s a better deal to deduct the state and local income taxes – deducting sales taxes is really only a good option when the state income tax rate is very low (like zero).

    If you choose to deduct your sales taxes, you can deduct the actual amount you paid, or an estimated amount based on your income. That’s what Jen is talking about with the “standard sales tax deduction.”

    And of course, to do any of this, you need to itemize your deductions. That means that the sales tax or state income tax, plus all your other deductions (mortgage interest, charitable donations, etc.) need to add up to more than the standard deduction – otherwise you’re better off just taking the standard deduction.

  11. Kevin says:

    I disagree that Kelly deserves to get “piled on.” She’s done nothing wrong, and is actually expressing concern and compassion for someone who’s not even a blood relative.

    Her in-laws clearly had their heads buried in the sand when it came to their finances (hefty mortgage, 2 leased cars, not a penny in savings or life insurance), but somehow the mother-in-law is entitled to a share of Kelly’s money? Gimmie a break!

    Kelly didn’t save and sacrifice just to see it used to bail out an irresponsible, spendthrift woman. That money is for HER future. What is wrong with you people? Her mother-in-law clearly has lots of places she could cut back (dump the fleeced car, feed her dog dog food instead of caviar, quit the pricy tobacco habit – and those are just the ones we know about!), why should Kelly step in as an enabler of such harmful behaviours?

    Give the poor girl a break. Sure, the woman’s husband died. A YEAR AGO. She’s not the world’s first widow. She’s a grown woman – she’s going to have to deal with it, and find a way to cope. Just like every other widow who’s ever lived. Sooner or later, we’re all going to have to deal with such tragedies, it’s a part of life. But we might not all have a responsible daughter-in-law we can guilt into bailing us out.

  12. Interested Reader says:

    @q2 – your mother in law sounds depressed, which considering the fact her entire world has been up ended it’s not surprising.

    Have you or your husband helped her out in anyway? Helped her figure out about social securtity and if she qualifies for any kind of assistance? Does she have medical insurance or qualify for medicaid.

    Why were you so firm on not helping her out? If your in laws were constantly coming to you for money then I could see that.

    It sounds like your MIL needs to see counselor, you may try asking her if she would be willing to go and if she is maybe you could work out by paying the counselor directly. You also may want to see if there’s some kind of finaicial advisor who can help her.

  13. Gretchen says:

    It’s not Kelly’s mother. It’s Kelly’s Mother in law.

    Huge difference. Either way she’s an adult who didn’t have her stuff together. Yes, things happen but you should be prepared for them.
    Katie didn’t. Kelly can’t help her out forever, but if anyone’s gonna tell her that, it should be Kelly’s husband.

  14. Alice says:

    Your mother-in-law lost her husband and is in difficult circumstances. But you crow about having money saved for future trips and that you’ve decided not to help financially. Now you want to call her up and “tell her to get her act together” because she’s spending money on her pet.

    I hope the folks on this forum don’t give any validation to your cruel attitude toward MIL. Having financial resources does not give you the right to dictate to anyone how they should live their life. Since you’ve already decided not to be involved financially, whatever she does will have no impact on you. And since you don’t seem to actually care about what she’s going through, whatever difficulties she encounters shouldn’t bother you on an emotional level.

    Much as you will undoubtedly “fail” in many aspects of your own life, you should let MIL “fail” on her own; “succeeding” on your terms would be a Pyrrhic victory at best.

  15. Diane says:

    Q2: There’s a time and a place for telling someone to get their act together and letting them fail without a net or any help from you. Right after a death when someone is a newly-widowed wife with neither coping skills nor marketable skills isn’t one of those times. This is an instance for compassion, not judgement. Help her in tangible ways – buy her food, take her dog to the vet, help her with $ for a no-msoking program. Sitting back at the ripe old age of 23 and just judging while waiting for her to fail is appalling.

  16. Wes says:

    Re-read Q3, Johanna. Martha does not say she is concerned about not inheriting the house. She says she is concerned about being on the hook for money owed to the bank beyond what the estate is worth. As Trent points out, Martha may be mistaken about how the heirs play into the arrangement, but you cannot infer from that mistake that she is a “greedy whiner” who actually wants the home to be hers.

    Johanna, if you will not take the time to read the questions closely, maybe you should follow the advice you gave to Dana (Q1) in #8.

  17. Interested Reader says:

    @13 Kelly and her husband paid for the cremation and wake and then decided not help out Katie finacially.

    If that’s true right now Kelly and her husband aren’t paying a dime to Katie.

    There are ways to help besides saying “get your act together”. Try to find some resources or information for Katie that might actually help her.

  18. guinness416 says:

    “My, what a bunch of greedy whiners we have this week”

    Yeah, I laughed out loud, Johanna.

    “Consider it a form of therapy, considering dogs provide such comfort and love”

    Repeated for truth! Dogs are real sadness-reducers and apart from anything else get you out exercising when you really don’t want to. That would be the last area I’d be pontificating about. Seeing as even your husband disagrees with your approach to your MIL I can’t understand why you’d want to micromanage her budget and kick the woman while she’s down. Have a heart, a lot of women of “a certain age” have never had to plan their family’s finances like you and I do, throw the (sudden?) loss of her spouse into the mix and she sounds like she’s making real progress.

    Q9 – the dream fund. I have one. Just my opinion, but everyone who has the means should. Two years from now you may meet a great guy/gal and want to take a year off to travel with them or to relocate abroad or go back to college or some such. You’ll be glad of it then. You have to live in your youth too!

  19. Johanna says:

    Wes, I think maybe you should reread Q3. I don’t see where Martha says anything about the heirs owing more than the estate is worth. She does say that she’s heard that “the amount owed back is often much larger than the original amount borrowed” – which is true, and which is why “the amount borrowed” is necessarily much less than the amount of equity in the home.

  20. Johanna says:

    I’m not understanding the numbers in Barb’s (Q6) question. Even if Barb and her husband are both drawing the largest possible Social Security benefit, there’s no way that $80K in savings translates into $88K in income. Is there a pension or some other source of income that Barb’s not mentioning?

    But to help with Barb’s actual question: If you’re embarrassed to meet with a financial adviser in your town, can you find one in a different town?

  21. Wes says:

    Johanna, Martha did not state that she knew “the amount borrowed” is less than the amount of equity in the home. You may have known that reading her post or Trent’s response, but she did not say anything to that effect in her original question. That is why it is clear that she is concerned (however erroneously) with being liable for her in-law’s decisions, and why you should not have been so quick to pass judgment on someone and label them as a greedy whiner because of a mistake in how the financial instrument actually works.

  22. Jennifer Lissette says:

    Q2: Girl, you need to take it easy on your mother-in-law. She lost her life partner, someone she had been with for at least 26 years just based on your husband’s age. To expect her to just suck it up and “get her act together” in less than a year is terribly insensitive.

    If the dog is from their marriage, then it’s probably the closest connection she feels like she has to her late husband. I have an aunt who did the same thing when her husband died, it helped her cope with the loss. She also sounds like she misses her role taking care of her husband, which could be why she’s tending to her sisters now instead.

    You’ve already decided not to take care of her financially. Chastising her, rather than caring for her emotionally, during this hard time sounds like a good way to lose the relationship forever.

  23. Amy P says:

    Re: Q3

    There’s an additional issue with doing the reverse mortgage now–what if the parents need to go into assisted living or get in-home care over the next few years? It would be very handy to have $120k then, rather than to have frittered it away on day-to-day costs and fees. Maybe the letter-writer should offer them a bit of monthly help ($200-$300 a month), on the understanding that they will not do the reverse mortgage yet.

    On the other hand, maybe the reason that the parents want to do a reverse mortgage is that their expenses are creeping up (medicine, need for extra household help). I would make enquiries to see what exactly they need the extra money for, and then take it from there.

    Re: Q2

    There are Social Security death benefits for widows, if I’m not mistaken.

    If you boil down the letter (MIL is starving herself while smoking and feeding her dog and other people), the letter-writer has very valid concerns and isn’t just being a nosy, uncompassionate in-law. Can the letter writer and her husband help the MIL get rid of the leased car, get a less expensive one, and perhaps send $100 a month for groceries for the next year? As a middle-aged lady whose husband probably took care of all of the car stuff, she’s probably very intimidated by the legal and financial side of getting out of the car. Perhaps when the year was up, you could switch over to subsidizing a community college class for MIL (making that very clear well in advance).

  24. Amy P says:

    Here’s another thought for the 83-year-olds who are considering a reverse mortgage. Although it sounds like they live very modestly, I think it’s possible that a savvy younger person could do some wonderful things for them by having a hard look at their bills (and reviewing them on a yearly basis, if possible). If there’s utility choice in your state, are they signed up with the cheapest plan for their situation? And do the same with cable, cell phone, etc. We haven’t cut our landline, but my husband found us a $2-a-month long distance plan for the landline in case of major emergencies. There’s peace of mind, and also major savings. Review their insurance bills and see if you can get them better deals. I don’t promise any miracles, but it should be possible to find $100 a month. It’s very likely that a pair of 83-year-olds haven’t recently reviewed their utility and insurance arrangements and there may be some white elephants that you can get off their backs.

  25. Alice says:

    DIL already decided not to financially help MIL. DIL’s not looking for suggestions as to how to help (or for anyone to tell her how to spend *her* money), but wants validation for her decision to tell MIL “to get her act together.”

    Having decided not to help financially, she doesn’t get a say. Even if DIL did contribute, she’s still not entitled to tell her MIL what to do and how to live. It’s very arrogant and condescending from a 23 year old, if she’s lucky she’ll have some life experiences and learn how wrong it is to try to control other adults.

  26. Des says:

    RE #25 “Having decided not to help financially, she doesn’t get a say.”

    I think this is the crux of the issue. If you’re not financially involved, you don’t get to tell someone else how to live their life. Is it frustrating to watch someone make (what you consider) bad decisions? Sure. But you have no right to tell anyone else how to live unless it affects you, and Katie has already decided it does not by withholding financial support.

  27. Des says:

    Sorry…I meant Kelly, not Katie.

  28. Amy P says:

    “Having decided not to help financially, she doesn’t get a say.”

    Indeed. On the other hand, I’m not sure her husband is totally on board with that plan, which in the long run may be the bigger problem.

  29. SwingCheese says:

    I think the bigger issue with Q2 (as others have mentioned), is that there seems to be a distinct lack of compassion for these two towards their mother/in-law. I agree with the earlier posters who mentioned that women of a certain age generally were not concerned with the finances/home/cars, etc. Now would be a good time for Kelly and hubby to raid their trip fund, visit mother/in-law and take some of their time and knowledge to walk her through some basics about finances, since they clearly have their finances in order. This would be beneficial and demonstrate caring and support, without requiring them to financially support mother/in-law and the habits they find so discouraging.

  30. Joanna says:

    @Q2 what stands out to me is the mention of Katie’s weight loss and abundant cooking for sisters and her dog. It’s possible that she’s suffering from an eating disorder (maybe a result of depression). If so, she needs more than financial help. As others have mentioned, Kelly could look into resources for counseling, support groups, and be sure to project a nonjudgmental attitude when talking with her MIL. It’s a good first step to ask how to help–just make sure you have the right priorities for what needs help.

  31. jim says:

    Q3 : If you don’t like the reverse mortgage idea then you could offer to buy the house from them and pay them $300 a month payments and let them live in it rent free or pay them $700 payments and charge them $400 rent thus leaving $300 surplus for them. If they want they could just get an equity line on the reverse mortgate, pay off their $15k morgage and then have extra money available IF and only if they need it. For a reverse mortgage the bank can’t get anything more than the value of the house. So they won’t take the rest of the estate nor impose fees above the value of the house. It might be an OK idea for an elderly couple with low fixed income. But you do have to be careful and shop around so you don’t pay excessive fees.

    Q4 Cee : You make $40k now. With the grad degree you’ll make $45-55k. Thats an extra $5-15k which would pay your student loan payments and then some plus leave you with grad. education credential. Yes getting that degree is worth it financially. Whether or not you want to do it is up to you though.

    Q8 Jen: All you have to do is add up the total sales taxes paid and then put that total into schedule A. Just keep the recipts in case of an audit. You DO NOT have to list every single receipt or anything like that.

    Q10 Elaine: NO. You aren’t responsible for your mom’s debts if she passes. Your mom’s estate is responsible for the debts and you might be the executor responsible for paying her debts with her estates assets. But they can’t come after YOUR money separate from your mom’s estate.

  32. jim says:

    Q2 Kelly does seem too nosy and judgmental about her MIL’s finances. Taking the dog to the vet, cooking relatives dinner and smoking is not exactly what I’d call ‘spendthrift’ behavior. If you think taking a dog to a vet is unnecessary then maybe Kelly is miserly? But I wodner if Kelly’s nosy and judgemental behavior is due to thinking ahead to the point that MIL becomes financially destitute and ends up dependent on Kelly and her husband. If you know your MIL is going to run herself bankrupt then you see the eventual step after that is you’ll HAVE to bail them out with financial assistance. Maybe Kelly wants to try to stop the trainwreck from happening? And not have to step in to clean up the mess. And Kelly’s husband is worrying a lot about his mom so he may be talking about helping her financially. But you all are right, Kelly should realize MIL is probably in bad spot mentally and needs other kind of help right now. Judgementally telling her to stop smoking and wasting money on her beloved dog is going to be seen as nosy and stupid gibberish.

  33. Tammy says:

    RE Q3: @#23 Yes, widows qualify for their husband’s Social Security benefits – at age 60. They may also draw if they are caring for a minor child, which does not seem to the case in this situation.

  34. MegB says:

    Kelly needs to focus her energy on supporting her husband at a time when he is clearly worried about his mother and she needs to communicate with HIM, and only him. Any other conversations about these issues need to be between Katie and her son. I don’t care how close Kelly might be to her MIL, there are certain boundaries that you just don’t cross as a DIL, and this is one of them. Besides, Katie is likely going to respond better to her son because he is her son. She is far more likely to get defensive or tune Kelly out no matter what approach Kelly may take. Kelly, let your husband be the voice of concern and reason here, and just step back and love and support him as he does so. Your marriage and your relationship with your MIL will be all the better for it.

  35. Des says:

    Q9 – If your dream is early retirement (pre-59 1/2) you should google something called “Substantially Equal Periodic Payments”. If you save enough to retire, but you are too young to do so without penalty, you can set up an SEPP and withdraw your retirement funds early. Most people are not in the enviable position to do that, but it is available and it sounds like something you might be interested in.

  36. Evita says:

    Q2 : Kelly, your MIL has lost everything that was dear to her : her husband (long-time companion, provider, money manager), her home, her independance (living with her sister), her freedorm (now has to work, with no experience and no education) She lost everything except her dog. She is doing her best to to cope but has assets so limited that she cannot do better than a crappy, low-paying part-time job at Walmart. Poor woman! No wonder she is depressed! Put yourself in her shoes for a minute and get some compassion (that her son seems to be seriously lacking, or he is just covering his eyes).

    Seriously, what good can come of “telling her to get her act together” ?. She is too depressed and overwhelmed to take care of herself. The last thing she needs is a lecture. Trent’s advice is good but you can do more. You could also see her sister and try to help in finding a therapist for her. This is one situation where you can loosen the purse strings, not to “bail her out” but to pay for real help

  37. valleycat1 says:

    meta comment to commenters @ 23 & 29 – a woman with a 25-year-old son is most likely a barely old enough to even be a baby boomer, not of a generation where the husband took care of all that pesky financial & mechanical hard stuff.

    With that off my chest, I agree with those who have commented that if the kids have washed their hands of providing financial assistance, they need to butt out regarding mom’s decisions. And one year is not an over-long time for a woman to mourn the loss of a fairly young husband.

  38. moom says:

    I think Trent’s answer to #9 makes a lot of sense. Too often I see people on relatively low incomes stuffing all their savings into retirement accounts to get the “tax benefits”.

  39. almost there says:

    I find it strange that people ask financial advice from this blog that is for entertainment only, per the disclaimer. Jim was the only responder that correctly stated that the estate could not be attached to anything owed on a reverse mortgage. The lender can only take the house when the reverse mortgage holder dies or moves away, even if the house is valued less than the money lent on the reverse mortgage. Trent tends to give off the cuff answers that are not well researched. Perhaps he should just stick to blog posts he has researched and leave the advice to Dear Abby.

  40. Sharon says:

    I’m back tocomment on Q2 again. If the MIL only has a part-time job at Wal-mart, then maybe she has food stamps. (She certainly would qualify) Perhaps she is feeding the dog people food because she can use the food stamps to buy people food and she needs her Wal-mart income to pay for the car and cigs.
    If the kids wanted to help her, why not turn in the leased car, (her credit is trashed with the foreclosure anyway), buy her a decent (paid for) car and a machine to roll cigarettes. Those two things would greatly reduce her monthly outlay.
    And while we cannot assume that she doesn’t understand finances based on her age, certainly her husband seemed to have little understanding. Perhaps some help there would be helpful. And if the daughter walked through the monthly budget maybe she would understand better what MIL is up against.
    And yes, in a perfect world I would think that after a year MIL would be more “on the ball” but given the family history of being uprepared, lack of support from her family, I am not surprised that she is still reeling.

  41. getagrip says:

    Q6 Assuming they really are earning $88K a year in retirement, then they should be able to be banking a good chunk of that based on their description of expenses. As someone else has suggested they could go out of town and look for an advisor. But whether they go out of town or stay in town I would just tell whatever advisor they have that they got bad advice before and got trashed in the market crash. Plenty of people have legitimately lost all of their saving in the market and it’s aftermath, so it’s a good excuse at this point.

    I guess my question to them would be what do they need the adivisor for? I think that’s why Trent couldn’t provide good advice, most people are trying to get to have the kind of money they are already getting when they retire. But if they do have some other goals, then they need to get past whatever ego issue they have and pick the best advisor they can and get their questions answered. Sometimes it may stink to eat crow, but its better tasting in the long run than cat food.

  42. AnnJo says:

    Q8 re: sales tax deduction:

    I use Quicken and have a Category for Taxes and a subcategory for sales. I stick all my receipts in a pocket of my wallet and once a week, I enter them into Quicken, and use the “Split Transaction” to enter the amount of the sales tax separately from whatever other categories apply to the expenditure.

    It takes about 10-15 minutes a week to enter all my receipts and then stash them in that month’s envelope. I can’t imagine why Trent would think this could take two hours a week! (I use junk mail envelopes to stash these. The prior year’s envelopes get rubber-banded together and stashed in a box.)

  43. Milly says:

    Q6: If their income is indeed $88k a year based on pensions and social security, they need to see what the income would be if one of them passes away. Can the surviving spouse live on that amount? It would be worthwhile to save the difference as a reserve.

  44. AnnJo says:

    Kelly at Q2 leaves me wondering why she and her husband have made a “firm decision” not to provide any financial help to his widowed mother.

    Did his parents help him with college, or not? Did they shortchange him on his childhood needs (orthodontia, extracurricular activities, etc.) in favor of extravagant toys for themselves? What failings as parents did they have that earned Katie this kind of disdain when her life has been turned upside down?

    Kelly and her husband sound like they are taking financial responsibility for themselves, and that is admirable, but they are forgetting that one of the reasons for financial security is to be in a position to help those who have a moral claim on us when they need it, which would certainly include most parents.

  45. valleycat1 says:

    #39 almost there – I too am concerned that people are writing to Trent expecting solid, authoritative financial advice – one can only hope that the questioners take his advice with a healthy dose of skepticism and read all the comments – & ask around other places too!

  46. Gal @ Equally Happy says:

    @Q4 I hold two masters degrees and a whole lot of debt that went into paying for them.

    If the degrees are for some real skills like engineering, medicine and so on then yes, they are very worth it. If they’re for something else like philosophy, French, business or something similar, then no.

    Sadly, I learned this lesson the hard way but hopefully you can avoid it.

    Also, please note that I am not saying the knowledge you get out of non technical degrees is worthless. I am simply saying you can get the same knowledge out of a good book with a far lower time and money investment.

  47. deRuiter says:

    Bravo Kevin #11!!!!! After a lifetime of bad financial decisions (2 leased cars, high mortgage with no mention of equity in house which would have enabled sale instead of foreclosure, no life insurance, no savings, no money at all so that her son and DIL have to pay for the cremation and funeral) the MIL continues to make bad financial decisions. Kevin’s right, stop smoking, feed the dog dog food, get dog toys at yard sales, and the MIL would have more disposable income. Why should the thrifty have to always subsidise the profligate? Even the sister is enabling the MIL by letting her live with her, advancing her gas money. I’m worn out with people (and governments) who don’t live within their means, don’t save “for a rainy day” and then want to suck the financial lifeblood of the productive and thrifty.

  48. dot says:

    Johanna #8 sure forgot to take her happy pill (again).
    Anytime someone is seeking advise regarding parents/in laws/inheritance ( Q3 clearly did not mention anything about inheritance)she goes off the deep end.
    Johanna, clearly you have some personal issues to work out in these categories before you convey your worthless opinion to others.
    Kelly in Q2 is simply seeking advice on how to help her MIL without enabling her to continue to make poor financial decisions and does not deserve to be “piled on”.
    Dana in Q1 is asking for advice on how to better help her parents out of a bad situation(she only mentions their weight to note that a physical job is out of the question).
    Martha is Q3 in concerned that a reverse mortgage may not be the best option for her parents and is asking Trent for advice.
    Where did you dream up that she was concerned about an inheritance??
    None of the above women sound like “greedy whiners” and Trent’s advice to each one was pretty good this time.
    Johanna, your advice in comment #30 was pretty good also…stick to what you are familiar with disorders and depression.

  49. dot says:

    Kevin #11 and deRuiter #47 I could not agree more! I believe these are good logical comments to the women in Q2 seeing that she states her and her husband have decided not to financially help his mother. Advice like this my help her and her husband feel better and more confident about their decision…
    Also, I am guilty of reading to quickly though Trent’s response regarding the reverse mortgage.
    Trent, you were absolutely correct that the bank can not touch the heirs personal assets, however
    the only thing the bank can take from the estate in the event of death is the house itself..nothing else.

  50. dot says:

    #30 Joanna, I am terrible sorry I believed your comment to be from JoHanna. I still believe it is a good comment, there certainly my be underlying issues for the MIL.
    I did not mean to suggest that YOU are with disorders and depression… again I apologize to you.

  51. tentaculistic says:

    #2 – Don’t worry Kelly, it sounds like your MIL may soon commit suicide, so you won’t have to worry about having to be subjected from afar by her deep moral and financial failings.

    And I totally sympathize with you and your husband for judging her. She COOKS DINNER for the woman who actually loved her enough to take her in?! Oh my, the gall of her, to have that kind of class and consideration when reduced to squatting in a relative’s space. She takes care of her dog?! Someone call the police, that must be abuse of some kind. Smoking? Well, it’s so easy for anyone to quit smoking, so of course she should be able to quit during the single most stressful point of her life, when she’s surrounded by judgment. Well ok, she got off her duff and got a job with what little skillset she has, but she’s struggling to pay for her car and gas on a Walmart salary. What a bum. Thank heaven she has relatives who won’t help in any way but will pass judgement on her very minor extravagances!

    Well, keep your chin up, just keep looking forward to your fun vacation coming up, and stop worrying about this pathetic parasite.

  52. Dawn K. says:

    @Q10-As Trent said, I’d check with local institutions to verify state laws, but ownership usually follows the following rules (I’m a new account specialist at my bank):

    If you are a Joint Owner with Rights of Survivorship, you would have a right to own all of the money upon her passing, without having to pass it along to the estate. It cannot make you responsible for any of her debt, since loans/debts are separate contracts outside of account documentation. However, as long as her SS is attached to the account, the account could be subject to garnishments or levies, if those are issues at all.

    You can be placed on an account in many different capacities. You could be an authorized signer, which gives you the right to conduct business on the account, but no ownership. This means at her passing you would cease any rights to conduct business.

    You could be a financial POA, but that ceases as well upon death.

    Once a customer passes, the money belongs to the joint owner(s). If there are no owners, it belongs to any beneficiary named. If there is no beneficiary, I cannot do anything with the money until I have court documentation naming an executor or trustee. So as you think about which way to proceed, I would just consult with your local bank or even an attorney to make sure the option you choose will allow you immediate access once she passes.

  53. SwingCheese says:

    Just two quick comments:

    Valleycat – Despite having lived through first-wave feminism, I personally know several women (born in 1960s), who, either by example or inclination, have decided to leave all the “pesky financial and mechanical hard stuff” to their husbands or SOs. In this case, the example set by their own parents/family seems to guide their decision to do so, rather than common sense (which, in my opinion, would dictate that both parties take responsibility for their financial well-being).

    Also, more generally, no one is suggesting that Kelly and her husband be responsible for all the profligate spenders in the world. However, generally speaking, you have a moral responsibility to take care of your family. Now it is possible that the relationship between Kelly’s husband and his mother is strained, for whatever reason, and that this is the impetus behind cutting off financial support. But again, generally speaking, it would seem to me that they have a moral obligation to at least help this woman better understand how to navigate her new responsibilities, as opposed to taking her to task for her behavior. Kelly seems more interested in confrontation than in compassion in this letter, though that may not be the case in real life.

  54. Andrew says:

    The writers of questions 1, 2 and 3 all assume that their high-handed interference is something that their parents should welcome. Perhaps they should all take a step back, consider their own (undoubtedly myriad) failings, and try to remember that compassion and love are more important than money.

  55. dot says:

    #51 tentaculistic
    If you can’t afford to put gas in your car to get to work hell yes you need to quit smoking…no matter how stressful your life is at the moment.. including the death of your husband a year ago.
    Without hesitation I would spend MY money on vacation before I gave a broke smoker money for gas.

  56. Interested Reader says:

    Spoken like someone who has never tried to stop smoking OR known someone who was trying to quit.

    Nicotine is one of *the* most addictive substances out there. Sure there are people who are able to quit cold turkey but the reality is that most people have a hard time quitting becuase they are physically and psychologically addicted.

    Which is why there are so many drugs and other programs to help people quit. I know a several people who tried to quit and one was going through an extremely stressful time and her doctor advised her to wait on quitting because she didn’t need the extra stress on top of everything else.

    Plus there are other things that Kelly and her husband can do for her Kelly besides just give her money.

    They could do the leg work to find resources in the area to help Kattie.

    I don’t understand why you and others are arguing that Kelly and her husband shouldn’t show compassion to Katie.

  57. Micki says:

    I am a widow. My husband committed suicide a little over 3 years ago with no warning. We were both 31.

    It was the single hardest time of my life, and the only reason I came through it was love. It was showered on my by family, friends, aquaintances, and a terrific therapist.

    Financially, it was tough, but I made it. Unlike Katie in Q2, I did work outside the home, so although I lost my house (as Katie also has!) I was at least able to afford to rent an apartment.

    Spending like a maniac after your spouse dies is common, I bought all sorts of junk I did not need as a balm against the pain. It takes time to get through the grief, and it takes some trial and error. And it certainly takes more than a year, especially if you have been displaced from your home, and left destitute by the spouse who was supposed to take care of the finances.

    Kelly, I believe that the other posters are right. If you are not subsidizing your MIL, than you have no say in how she lives her life. I can tell from the tone of your letter that you want her to get over this, so that she will not become a financial obligation to you and your husband. The truth is, however, she is getting over it. Slowly, one day at a time, and it seems she is doing the very best that she can with what she has got.

    While it would certainly be a kindness for you to offer a gift of money during this trying time, it is not obligated. What would be more of a blessing, however, is some compassion. Send her cards that let her know you are thinking about her. Call once a week, just to listen, and really try to put yourself in her shoes when she cries because she misses her husband and former way of life, and cheer for her when she has a victory, such as holding down a part time job for the first time in decades. Heck, when I was a new widow, finding the energy to wash my hair was a victory.

    If you take the time and effort to show her compassion, and build a relationship with her, then you can nudge her about smoking, and finances, and feeding her dog regular dog food. Because if you have a compassionate relationship with her, she will know your concerns come from the fact that you care about her, NOT that you care that she someday may need your financial help.

    I guarantee you that if you take the time to just be there for her, you will both reap rewards. If this is something that you cannot do, then please, just leave this lady alone to pick up the pieces, and do not kick her while she is down.

    Also, I would be more than happy to call her and get to know her. Sometimes it is so much easier to talk to someone who has similar experiences, so if you think it might benefit your MIL, please ask Trent for my email.

    Trent, please see above. I would love to talk to ‘Katie’, if Kelly thinks it would help, but I do not want to post my email here. Will you please give my email to Kelly if she should ask you?


  58. dot says:

    I smoked for 10+ years and have been nicotine free for 16 years now. One of the biggest motivators I had was the amount of money I was wasting on such a bad habit.

    I am also pretty sure that an addict needs to want to quit and all the leg work in the world done by someone else is useless.

    Choosing not to give someone money that is making horrible financial decisions that could easily be corrected has nothing do do with compassion

  59. Interested Reader says:

    I have compassion for someone who is making mistakes when they are going through a rough time.

    We don’t have enough information to know if Katie was aware of the bad financial situation before her husband’s death. So this maybe new behavhior for her.

    Of course there maybe more to the story than we know and Katie might not be a nice person.

    It’s not Kelly and her husband have been contributing any of their money to help and who knows maybe if Katie did have a little bit of financial assistance she might be able to climb out of this mess.

    They haven’t been giving her any money and they don’t have to give her any money directly to help her. Again, Kelly’s husband could do some leg work and try to get some information and resources.

  60. Jennifer Lissette says:

    @dot: The question Kelly is proposing is not whether she should give her MIL money. She has already made that decision and has decided she will not support Katie’s bad habits. The question Kelly presents is whether she should call her grieving mother-in-law and tell her to get her act together. And that kind of kick-her-while-she’s-down attitude could benefit quite a bit from a dose of compassion.

  61. dot says:

    I am aware of what she is asking for I stated that in my comment #48.
    I purposely did not answer the “get her act together” questions, because I do not know these people and how much accurate information was actually reveled regarding the situation. With the information given it is very one sided.
    However, I do not need to know anyone personally to justify advise that you should not give money to someone making very bad financial decisions, regardless of the reason.
    I am not kicking anyone while they are down.
    My thought is if you are smoking a cigarette in your car while you are driving to your walmart job and you run out of gas…. you have to learn from the poor decision you made to purchase smokes instead of gas… I will give you a city bus route map but I will not give you gas.

  62. Johanna says:

    Hey dot, did you forget to take your reading comprehension pill? :)

    We are not talking about whether Kelly should give her MIL money.

  63. dot says:

    I left 6 comments:#48 disagree with your “piled on”,”greedy whiners” and your personal problems with inheritance.#49 Agreeing with commenter’s and reiterating that although Kelly already stated she is not giving money it may make her fell better about her decision. #50 – Apologizing (twice) to poor Joanna.#55 Expressing my strong belief that if Katie can’t afford to put gas in her car she should stop smoking. #58 yes I was a smoker and not giving money has nothing to do with compassion.#61 again explaining my deep disagreement with Kati’s sisters or anyone giving a smoker money for gas I never said Kelly should give or not give her MIL money…Merely, stated over and over I would never give a financial irresponsible smoker money.
    However, I still would like to know how you dreamed up Q3 was concerned about an inheritance?

  64. Tom says:

    Thanks to Dawn for an informed answer about the joint account, but the questioner should always double check her state’s rules. Someone at the local branch should be able to answer your questions.

    I have a financial POA for my father’s bank account, which gives my signing privileges should he be incapacitated (he has some health issues), but also bestows fiduciary responsibilities on me, and requires that I do not mix my assets with his. He also identified me as the executor of his estate. We had his bank draw up the POA for free, you could do the same and remove your name from the joint account to simplify the estate.

  65. jim says:

    dot, What if Katie wasn’t a smoker?

    You seem very focused on the smoking. Why is that?

  66. valleycat1 says:

    #53 swingcheese – Just because there are some women within a generation that adhere to more paternalistic views doesn’t mean that it is more prevalent in that generation to work out gender roles that way. (As opposed to older generations where that was more the norm, though not 100% of the time.) I know some young women (mid-20’s) whose relationships split gender roles very traditionally, but I’d never make a generalization that mid-20-year-old females are from a generation that does that.

  67. Janis says:

    Micki (#57), your words of caring and compassion brought tears to my eyes. What a beautiful thing you did, taking the time to write from your own painful experience in a way that might open Kelley’s heart to her MIL. And then to offer to reach out to Katie, what a remarkably kind and insightful person you are.

  68. Janis says:

    Q4 – If retaining your current position is truly contingent upon your obtaining a graduate degree, then you may be able to deduct tuition, books, travel, and related expenses on your taxes. Check the IRS web site for more information (Topic 513 Educational expenses). You may also ask your employer to assist you with the cost of the educational requirement; many employers do. In addition, many employers will reimburse all or at least a portion of continuing education expenses required to obtain and maintain a professional certification.

    Of course all this hinges on how much you want to remain in human resources and how far you want to advance in that field. As you learned from your husband’s experience, an incomplete degree is not of any real financial value in the workplace, yet the tuition debt is very real. You say you were “forced” to return to work – that sounds as though you are not really committed to the prospect of advancing your career track. If that is the case, but you still wish to stay marketable within HR, then I suggest obtaining your PHR certification, at the least. SHRM’s own PHR prep course is $1,300 for members – again, your employer may reimburse either or both the prep course and the membership. Getting a PHR certification is a relatively easy short-term goal for establishing your HR credentials. Your experience prepping for the PHR exam will tell you a lot about whether or not grad school is for you.

  69. imelda says:

    Uhhh, Trent? Now is the time for you to step in and tell people to cool it in the comments. Not saying I agree with her, but people are being REALLY inappropriately harsh towards Kelly in #2. See comment 51 if you don’t know what I’m talking about.

    Anywho. I have a response to Dana, #1: Dude, if your parents need more money, they’ll try harder to find work. If they don’t, then they won’t. And really, why should they? Sure they’re in debt, but do they have any intention of moving? If they stopped paying their credit cards altogether (or paid just the minimums), how would that impact their lives?

    From your description, it sounds like they are looking for discretionary income, not survival income. That shouldn’t necessitate a full-time job. Why don’t they try setting up an eBay business, or a home daycare center, or some other kind of part-time or self-employed work?

    Although I know you are dealing with reality, part of me just gets up in arms at the idea that someone in their 60s should be forced to go back to school and scrabble for jobs against people in their 20s. That’s when you know a society is failing.

  70. SwingCheese says:

    @66, Valleycat: You are right – it was a broad generalization, based on the small sample of women that I know, and it was poorly stated. It would have been more accurate for me to say that I don’t think it is an uncommon situation for women and men to split their responsibilities along gender lines, and thus it doesn’t seem odd to me that Kelly’s MIL did not have a clear understanding of her financial situation.

  71. DOT says:

    I started referring to a smoker in reference to #51 tentaculistic’s sarcastic comment that included comments about smoking.
    To answer your question if Katie was a non smoker: I would have to have more facts. Kelly speaks of her buying expensive dog toys, feeding him people food, cooks for family…This is not enough information to label someone as financial irresponsible…Is the dog toy 2 bucks or 20, is the people food caviar or roman noodles..Everyone has their own opinion on what expensive is and this is just not enough information for me to have an opinion on. Smoker or not I still would not provide financial assistant to anyone that is making very poor financial decisions and would never provide financial assistant to a smoker. If you have money to purchase cigarettes, quit smoking ( yes, it is hard but not impossible) and pay your own bills.
    On another note if all your bills are paid,your saving money and you are not relying on anyone financially and chose to spend your extra money on cigarettes.. go right ahead just don’t blow the smoke my way.

  72. Petunia says:

    I made a comment on Monday which is still awaiting moderation, so I am going to copy and paste it here:

    #33 Petunia @ 1:13 pm February 21st, 2011

    @Q2 – I think some are being a bit harsh on the DIL. She stated that she and her husband paid for FIL’s cremation and burial expenses. That wasn’t helping? I think it was. She’s worried about her MIL, or she wouldn’t be writing. She’s thinking that “tough love” may be necessary. She may be right or wrong, but either way, she is concerned.

    The MIL likely does not qualify for SS benefits.
    You don’t get benefits simply because you are a widow. You must have reached retirement age, or have a minor child.

    @Q3 – Trent’s answer is incorrect.

    If the home sells for less than the mortgage balance, the estate does not owe the difference. The loan is secured by the home, not the estate. Google it, Trent. Please spend 3 minutes on Google before giving this reader bad information.

    Also, no lender will go 92% LTV on a reverse mortgage. (Your example, 110k reverse mortgage on a home worth 120k). The norm is 50 – 60%.

    Here is a site which provides accurate information on reverse mortgages:

    End of copy and paste. I left the site off since I believe that is why my first comment is still awaiting moderation. But I urge Martha, the writer of Q3, to Google reverse mortgages for herself.

  73. Leah W. says:

    Elaine: GO SEE A LAWYER WHO SPECIALIZES IN ESTATE PLANNING. I’m a lawyer. I do a lot of probate work in my practice. You would truly be amazed how even the most peaceful and copacetic families fight over money after their parents die. Your mom may think it costs too much to make a will. Tell her it costs more when everyone sues each other after she’s gone!

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