Dear Penny: Can We Protect Dad’s Assets From His Money-Hungry Girlfriend?
My father is in his mid-80s, and my mother died over a decade ago. He started dating a woman his age 10 years ago, who subsequently moved in with him, though they are not married. She has a house nearby, but his home is more convenient because it is all on one floor and he paid for everything.
Earlier this year, his health issues made moving him into a nursing home necessary. This woman has now made a deal with my father that she can stay on at his house after he dies. Apparently there are stipulations she doesn’t agree with in a contract his lawyer drew up, but as far as I know, Dad will just cave into her demands.
One of the stipulations prevents her ne’er-do-well grandson, who has a history of theft and substance abuse, from spending time in Dad’s home. Dad has extensive collections of antiques and collectibles that could easily disappear. Dad has also said to me and my siblings that if anyone gets contentious, he will just cut them out of the will.
We are concerned that this arrangement will really complicate all of our lives when Dad dies. He has not thought of possibilities, like what if she hooks up with someone else and that person moves in?
I appreciate that his money is his money, but this extended living arrangement has us really steamed. Communication has never been good in our family. It feels like she had a financial interest in him all along and now we’re stuck with her, even after he dies. Any advice for how to think about this, protect family assets, and move forward?
Is your primary concern that your father’s final wishes won’t be carried out? Or are you more worried about still having to deal with Dad’s girlfriend when he’s gone? The way you’ve laid things out makes it sound like the latter.
Your dad’s girlfriend is in her 80s. She’s lived in his home for several years. I think your father is being reasonable. You may not like her, but she’s been an important part of his life for a decade. It’s understandable that he doesn’t want to uproot her when he dies.
That said, if you haven’t communicated your concerns with your father, you need to — with tact. This conversation needs to be about your dad and how you can best fulfill his wishes. (Repeat, his wishes.) Don’t accuse his girlfriend of being after his money. Don’t suggest that she’ll be ready to shack up with someone else the second he dies. Instead, you might ask your dad how he would feel if his girlfriend had another relationship, knowing that person may stay over at the house. Just because he hasn’t shared his thoughts and feelings with you doesn’t necessarily mean he hasn’t thought them through or discussed them with his attorney.
It’s also reasonable to make sure it’s spelled out who’s responsible for expenses related to the home while your dad’s girlfriend is still living there. It sounds like your father may have put the home in a life estate. It’s a common estate-planning tool when someone wants to let another person live in their home after their death without bequeathing it to them. In these arrangements, the tenant is usually responsible for these costs.
As far as your dad’s collectibles and antiques go, there’s no reason these items would need to stay in the home. He could leave them to you, your siblings or anyone else via his will or a trust. Keep in mind that collectibles are often way more valuable to the collector than they are in the marketplace. If there’s a particular item that you want, simply asking your father for it and explaining why you hold it dear may be a lot more effective than badgering him about his girlfriend’s deadbeat grandson.
I suspect, though, that your dad may be fully aware of your concerns. Communication isn’t just about making yourself heard. It requires listening, even if you don’t like the answers you get.
There are a lot of situations where family members have good reason to worry that an older loved one is being manipulated by a significant other. This doesn’t seem like one of those times. Your father sounds like he’s still of sound mind and wants to look out for his long-time companion after he’s gone. He may still need to work out some details, but fortunately, he has an attorney.
Given your father’s age and health issues, he may not have a lot of time left. Please heed his warning and don’t make this contentious. He deserves peace, not squabbling.
Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].
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