Inheriting Money and Possessions

Parent Q&A

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  • All Things Fair in Family and Estate Wills

    (4 replies)

    Hi BPN, hoping you can weigh in on how to prevent or minimize a future estate battle here! My sibling and I rent properties that are owned by our parents, both of which they placed in a trust. One of the properties (A) is a single family home and the other property (B) is a duplex where one of us lives in one unit and our parents live in the other. My parents’ intention for these properties is to keep them in the trust until they both pass, at which time both properties would be given to my sibling and I as a 50/50 split (so let’s say if property A was worth significantly more than B, and we decided to each take one of the properties, the settle up would look like one sibling buying out the other’s share based on the difference in appraised value). 

    My partner and I are interested in undertaking a large remodeling expansion for the property that we live in, which would increase the square footage in adding a junior ADU, an outdoor deck, and updating the kitchen and bathrooms. Due to the extensive nature of the renovation, my parents have suggested that we finance the remodel, which we are OK with, since we would have more control over the timing and design. They are also fine with ceding that oversight to us. What we are struggling to figure out is how to structure this outside investment in a way that makes the execution of the trust fair for both siblings. 

    The first idea is to treat the renovation funds we put in as a loan to my parents/the trust, which would get paid back to me and my partner, with interest, before the trust is executed. Timing, structure, and interest rate of this loan is not yet decided, but the current thought was floated to benchmark the interest at prevailing banking lender rates. 

    Another idea is to consider the increase in appraised value to the property as ‘owned’ by us. So for example, if the property is currently worth $1 million and our renovations raise the value to $1.5 million, we would ‘own’ the 500k increase, aka 33%. At the execution of the trust, the remaining 66% of the property would be split 50/50 between siblings. Other implications such as property tax have not yet been discussed.

    I imagine there is a legal professional that could help us implement all the details, but I’m not sure if they would also be able to suggest/help brainstorm plans and identify any pitfalls or edge-case scenarios. That is where I was hoping you, dear BPN reader, might come in.

    The main goal in deciding what structure to pursue is promoting fairness between siblings and to minimize the possibility of an estate battle. Should my sibling also be interested in a major remodeling project at the property they live, the same offer would be available to them. 

    What is your critique on either of the ideas presented above? Does anyone have experience with this situation, estate battles, or alternative ideas to offer? What else might we not be considering (that we should)? Appreciate any advice you can give, and any professional referrals that specialize in this stuff. 

    I speak from recent experience as the spouse of someone who with their siblings, inherited a house in California that one sibling wanted to buy from the others. There were negotiations over the value, and the impact of deferred maintenance, plus how to do the "buy out" with tax implications for the sellers. It wasn't a great experience although the sibling who wanted to buy it prevailed. This sibling had previously proposed something a little more along the lines of your situation, with the other parent's house 10 years ago and it also created some bad feelings. Anyway, in your case, the issue that jumps out to me is you funding these improvements really stakes your claim to this property and is your sibling truly emotionally okay with that? If it's going to be worth a lot more than the other, what if your sibling needs the cash from its sale after your parents are gone; will you be able to buy them out on their timeline? Is it fair to essentially stick them with being the landlord on the duplex property? Even if they say yes today, what about 10 years down the road if they have a different family situation?

    I personally would not invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in a property that I didn't own due to the risk of my sibling needing the liquidate down the road, or the trust assets being needed for your parents as they age further.

    Sibling equity consideration - The loan scenario you contemplate would have you double-dipping - you get paid back for your loan PLUS you get the entire value of what you loaned the money to create... actually triple-dipping, because you also get the enjoyment of the improvements. If you do the loan to the trust, you should not get the entire value of the improvements. The trust would keep that value. And are you also going to collect rental income from the JADU?

    The property tax will go up, as you say, because the ASSESSED value will increase by the amount of the construction permit's value. Look at the current property tax bill to estimate that impact. The appraised value could be based on a lot of factors, not just the work of the renovation, so it wouldn't be fair to take all that increase for yourselves.

    My question is “Will your sibling have the means to buy you out if you do this renovation?” If they can’t and are forced to move, this could be very destructive of your relationship, and also of your parents’ intentions to provide you both with housing. 

    A friend of mine did the same thing.  

    She had a small house on a piece of property on her parents' large lot.  To protect her interests and investment of creating her home and to preserve the interest of her 4 siblings, when her parents died (how to separate the parents' land and home; how to create a separate parcel for my friend, the home she built so she could assist in their care) requires an estate planning attorney with an excellent tax background.  I believe my friend's attorney is retired.  Our family used Jeff Levi at Fennemore Law in Oakland to divide our late parents estate.  

    You pose an intriguing problem.

    My background is:  UCB engineering degree; veteran of having built our own house in Oakland as owner-contractors; licensed real estate broker (retired); and co-trustee of my late MIL's Winchester Mystery Trust.

    Top down analysis:

    You and your trust-mates (parents, sibling & spouse) own a duplex and a single-family residence (SFR). You propose extensive renovations to the duplex to add an ADU, making it a triplex. How will this affect the eventual trust settlement?

    Assuming that you complete the renovations, no one has been disowned, and no one has committed murder - assess the increased valuation of the now-triplex. You subtract the cost of construction and the loan interest. That number is the added equity.

    Assuming that your parents' trust divides the assets evenly between yourself and your sibling,  you add the valuation of the renovated triplex and the SFR  together and divide by 2. 

    Start with the present valuation of the property. Get appraisals or brokers' opinions of value for both structures before doing any work. Appraisals are not precise measurements; they are opinions of value, legally valid for 24 hours.

    Obtain structural pest reports for both the duplex and your sib's SFR.

    The initial value for each property is best-guess valuations minus the structural pest work, roof, etc.  Probably also the sewer lateral.

    Plan the construction, with escape hatches for everyone except for yourself. Living in a construction zone is stressful and unhealthy!

    Cost out everything, then increase the amount by 10% for contingencies. 

    Carefully, carefully evaluate what type of loan product you obtain.  Unless it is YOUR name on the title, if it is your parents' revocable trust, they will probably need to sign for the loan - thereby encumbering their asset, for which they have toiled.  Who is the trustee and executor? Personally, as the parent i would NEVER agree to such a deal!

    More on loans:  Home Equity Lines of Credit require that you start making payments almost immediately on whatever you have spent. Can you cover this?  What if someone loses their job?

    Construction loans carry a higher interest rate and burdensome requirements that you finish by a certain date. The building inspector will need to give the final approval by that date.  Beware. The construction lender may either micromanage or require that you have a general contractor manage the budget. That won't guarantee operating in the black.

    (Back when we built our house, we were allowed to act as general contractor and pay the subs. The general we hired to build the weathertight shell and rough plumbing relentlessly overran his line items. He went broke, after I would not agree to pay for his overruns not included in the contract. We came in on time and on budget.)

    Returning to my advice:

    Prepared to go deeper into the land of Risk, open up the walls and see whether there is dry rot, termite infestation, foundation cracks, toxic mold, or other expensive problems that ware not in your budget.

    OK to proceed?  Ready to make loan payments and manage the contractors?

    Do you intend to live in the construction site?  Do your parents?  Can they move out for the duration, taking the pets?

    Unless your partner is a builder themselves, I can't see that this would be much fun for them.

    Yes, this may be do-able, but it could take 2 - 3 years. Good luck!

    Reply now »
  • I'm seeking advice and sources of help for an odd situation. I am trustee for an adult sibling's inheritance.  We use a special credit card (called Truelink credit card - and I would highly recommend it for anyone who wants to provide money to someone you must monitor or protect). This allows me to ultimately be in charge but for them to use as they wish so that they can feel independent.

    My main job is to make sure that this money lasts their life expectancy. Based on that and their expenses we came up with a budget. The budget also shows how much they can spend on non-essential "wants."

    The problem is that they are over-spending by a significant amount (10x to 20x as much). I can at any time just limit how much they spend by placing limits in this credit card but this is a sore issue with them and they see themselves as independent even tho they have never been that and have a long history of over spending which my parents always bailed them out. This is not new behavior at all.

    I've tried various ways to encourage them to understand their spending limits, that at this rate the money will be gone in a few years and not last their life-time but it doesn't make a difference, they just keep at it buying useless stuff (and a hoarder too).

    Before I just place limits, I wondered if there are any programs, groups or ideas of how to get a middle-aged person to take some responsibility in their lives?

    Or for them to understand that spending huge amounts (several thousand) each month on non-essentials is NOT okay? They see any limit as unfair, as a hardship, and I can't get them to understand that FEW people can spend that kind of money on non-essentials. They actually feel sorry for themselves when limited as if everyone else can spend that kind of money and not them.  

    Spending isn't the only problem, just overall failure to manage their lives with tons of excuses as to why that is but as a sibling, I don't want to play the role of the parent as frankly I've dealt with these issues of theirs enough in my life but as trustee, I'll know I'll just have to clamp down in the next month.

    Any ideas at all would be appreciated - how they may be able to finally see their behavior, or recognize that following a budget isn't a hardship and everyone has to, or how they can become more responsible. Because spending is just one issue, they won't take responsiblility of much of their life making me feel like their personal assistant to make sure they have things like car insurance etc.

    They basically function as a cranky 13-year old. Honestly I really hate it all and am beginning to resent them as I have my own family to take care of.

    And they do see a psychologist who basically does what everyone has done, believes this sibling's sob story and why everything is everyone else's fault but their own. No one has ever held this sibling accountable and I see now that I too am falling into that trap but I just don't want to be my sibling's parent. I'd like an outside source too to support me.

    I really understand what you are going through and I sympathize. I'm in a similar situation except my sibling is retirement age and there is no trust fund. My husband and I are his safety net. He lives very cheaply, but in an expensive area that he refuses to leave, so his food and shelter are more costly. He thinks of himself as an entrepreneur.  He is easily tricked by scammers and cannot be dissuaded that the nice young man from Nigeria does sincerely want to start a business venture with him, and the pretty lady on the internet really does want to marry him!  Any money he's ever managed to accumulate over the years has vanished into crazy schemes, and he's barely worked enough in his lifetime to be covered under social security. But thank god he does barely qualify, and thank god for food stamps and California Medi-Cal!  I spent years trying to reason with my brother until I finally realized that he will always be the way he has always been. So now my job as his sister is to make sure he has food and shelter and medical care. But I don't engage with him beyond that - otherwise I get pulled into Crazyland and it's a no-win for everybody.

    My advice:  Your parents designated you as the trustee for a reason. Your sibling is very fortunate to have a lifetime income and someone to manage it for them who cares about them. You are never going to be able to convince your sibling to be more sensible with money, so just give up on that. Your sibling is an adult so you also can't dictate how they spend their money. But you can and you should limit how much they get each month. That's your job as trustee.  Tell your sibling what the monthly limit is, and then repeat like a broken record. "I'm so sorry, but that's all there is."  Don't make any suggestions and don't give any advice unless they ask. They might moan and groan and call you names, but eventually they will get the idea. Just like toddlers do. And teenagers.

    All the best and feel free to message me if you want some peer support! 

    It sounds to me like you should resign as trustee. The trust should have some procedures laid out for what happens next. Maybe you can build a new relationship with your sibling if you're not holding the purse strings, or maybe you are ready to cut all ties. Bottom line, your parents are gone and you don't need to let them dictate this role to you anymore.

    I really feel for you - this is a very rough situation.  I have two ideas.  The first is to seek a family therapist who could work with the two of you together.  In my experience, many therapists spend a lot of time validating their clients' feelings to build trust in the therapeutic relationship and not much time challenging their clients to change their self-destructive thought patterns.  A family therapist's role is to be a mediator and to help resolve conflicts between family members, so this might be a much better fit if your sibling is open to it.  My second idea is to find a professional fiduciary to manage the trust and resign as the trustee.  That way you don't have to be the bad guy.  Good luck.

    This is really hard. I agree with the author that you probably can't change your sibling and if you do plan to continue in this capacity, keep your emotional distance, take care of yourself, and just do the job of trustee. You may want to consult with a lawyer to confirm this, but it's probably unlikely that you could get them conserved, which would really limit the damage they can do to themselves as far as their finances. Otherwise, perhaps they can be declared legally incompetent such that you could have more control over the financial decisions. (Of course this will further strain the relationship, but that seems out of your control anyhow.) My guess is you'd be worried that if you do just give them a limit, they won't end up spending the $$ on necessities and that would be hard to watch. I'm not a mental health expert, but I can't imagine your sibling doesn't have a mental health issue so these bad choices are probably not really even in their control. (I have known people like this.) Hopefully responses here are validating your experience - you're not alone! (And indeed, it's frustrating when other professionals, like the therapist, fail at their role.) 

    Set the limits ASAP on the card and in the meantime you can look for services. When they run out of money you might feel obligated to help them financially. Better to be tough now than deal with the aftermath later. 

    My heart goes out to you.

    We are setting up our estate plan for our two adult children.  In 40 years, their situation could resemble yours,

    Families with a functioning sibling and a dysfunctional sibling have an awful choice with awful tradeoffs:  Does the functional sibling bear the responsibility of monitoring the other,, or do you hire a fiduciary to handle it?

    There is no easy answer, but you are presumably free to choose.

    If a licensed professional fiduciary is an individual, they generally charge about 1% of the value of the estate per year. If it is a corporation, 2% per year. There are tradeoffs with which type one selects.

    Here is the link to the state agency that regulates professional fiduciaries:

    In your situation, it is clear that you are bearing a burden that comes with few, if any, rewards.  Don't beat yourself up if you can't do a perfect job at it.

    Reading about your experience helps inform what we will do about our own estate planning.


    I don't have any answers for you, but I am in a very similar situation. It is beyond frustrating and exhausting. I feel as though I have tried everything and have even threatened to resign as trustee, but this didn't work since it's too expensive to hire someone for this role.

    I wish I had some good advice. I will be following this post closely to see if there are any suggestions. 

    Feel free to message me if you need support!

    Has your sibling agreed that the budget makes sense?  Is your sibling simply irresponsible -- that is, not impaired in some way that makes being responsible too challenging?  Is this situation causing you enough stress that it's affecting your emotional or physical health and your interactions with your spouse and kids?

    I came from a difficult family, and eventually realized that I have to keep my relationship with them tightly bounded. Fortunately they are self-supporting, so I can.  You are stuck with money and survival getting mixed up with family emotions and loyalty, which sounds awful.

    My first thought is that you should find someone onto whom you can offload the problem.  This could be a relative, or better a neutral fiduciary who can enforce limits without emotional entanglement.

    Alternatively, you might try a natural-consequences, tough-love approach by doling the money out in very small increments.  I believe TrueLink is a debit card, so one can't spend more than is loaded on the card.  This which means you can arrange for your sibling to have a day-by-day experience of running out of money.  For example, you could load the card with one month's worth of budgeted money, and after that add one day's worth of money every day.  Your sibling will likely blow through the money and run out, and then have nothing to spend.  This will mean a lot of unpleasant situations where the card gets turned down for lack of funds.  A hard lesson but it might work.

    Let your sibling know before you start this, but try to frame it as something you're doing for convenience and efficiency.  No doubt there will be hell to pay while the lesson plays out, so get yourself a therapist or some other support before you start.

    If your sibling really cannot manage, then maybe you can arrange for vital expenses like rent and insurance to go through automatic bill-pay.  Again, you can frame this as being for your convenience.  Remaining budgeted money can go on the card incrementally.  When your sibling demands more money, say, "I'm sorry, but that's just not in the budget," and say it over and over again, no other argument or statement is needed. 

    Your sibling likely will see you as cold, heartless, and controlling.  Your parents obviously didn't trust your sibling with money, and they put you in position as parent.  You will be better off engaging with your sibling as little as possible over money, which may curtail your relationship in general.  Remember that your primary emotional responsibility is to the family you made, not your family of origin.

    It's entirely possible that your sibling is simply incapable of responsibly setting limits and sticking to them. It sounds like they generally haven't figured out how to function in the real world. If they're past their 20s, and if they haven't figured it out yet they probably never will. Your life will be much easier by accepting that, and giving up any emotional investment in trying to make it happen. Either accept that your role is to be bad cop and set limits, or go with the suggestion below to relinquish the role of trustee to someone else. It's a crappy situation to be in. You can make it less crappy by accepting the crappy possible actions you can take, and not hoping for an action (getting them to see the error of their ways) that isn't going to happen. 

    I get the problem, completely! My adult child has several challenges, special needs...AND he doesn't mind his money.  If your sibling is seeing a therapist, did you know you can send that professional a personal letter, letting him/her know your view of things. It doesn't matter that you don't have legal rights to consult with the would be a letter of concern and an offering of your point of view. -- You can even explain it as such.-- Then we have to let it go & maybe both of them will end up on the streets. An awful thought which haunts me from time to time. I love my son but because I have another son and an unwell son, setting up boundaries--not walls-- are important.    (In my case, the therapist was very appreciative.)  All the best

    Put the monthly limit in place. There's really nothing else you can do. You're not going to get your sibling to change their behavior otherwise. A class or group won't help because the sibling currently does not perceive a problem with their behavior. I'm assuming that you are the financial trustee and are not the legal guardian of your sibling. So if your job is simply to ensure the money lasts, you've done all you can do. Limit the monthly amount available, and just reiterate the limit and remind them of the budget. Otherwise try not to engage with all the complaining and other problems. If your sibling ever asks for help with budgeting or asks for help with how to become more responsible, then you could seek other ways to help. I'm sorry you're dealing with this.

    Ugh, I'm so sorry.  My mom is in the same boat with my aunt, who has been unable to work for most of her life due to mental health issues.  There is a small trust but in practice my parents have had to give her a lot of extra money to avoid her becoming homeless.  They have set up a reverse mortgage on her house -- not sure if that is an option here.  My aunt also gets SSDI funds.  And they've encouraged her to see a social worker focused on the elderly but she has resisted.  It's unpleasant and an ongoing source of stress.  And sadly, with my own mom having a terminal diagnosis, it looks like this sister will likely outlive all three of her (wonderful) siblings.

    Hi there, so sorry you are dealing with that situation.  It sounds exhausting and sad.  I totally agree with the advice from "GO" that you should give up on trying to help your sibling see reason.  The only thing you can do, and what you must do, is to put in place a monthly spending limit.  You have to set a boundary and stick with it - easier said than done.  I would recommend trying to find a good therapist for yourself, to help support you as you hold firm on the boundary, and to help of cope with the pain of the situation.  Best wishes to you.  

    I agree with the first response that you should remain as trustee. Don't resign as trustee. Your parents knew you had the ability to fill that role. You are fortunate that assets exist to take care of your sibling for life, otherwise you might have been stuck with supporting them down the road. I am not familiar with the Truelink credit card, but I wonder if transferring the agreed-upon, budgeted amount of money each month into sibling's account would be easier for you? Maybe that way they will start to understand that is all the money they will have to spend each month. If you are responsible for paying some of their bills from the trust account, then set up auto pay. I sympathize with your situation. I'm beginning to realize that people with serious spending problems are not likely to change. It's like an addiction that is difficult to overcome. I have a relative in her 30s now who has always been a compulsive shopper. In the past dozen or so years, she has maxed out and burned through credit cards, avoids paying rent at times because it's more fun to use any income to buy designer clothes, shoes, handbags and go out to fancy bars and restaurants, doesn't buy insurance for or register her car, doesn't file tax returns, doesn't have any savings... the list goes on. She lies and always has an excuse, and her parents believe her and continually bail her out. Like your sibling, she has never had to be accountable. She has destroyed family relationships with her reckless behavior. You are very fortunate that there is income for your sibling. Does sibling have a partner/significant other who could take some of the pressure off you of dealing with day-to-day chores of life? It sounds like that's the hard part for you, for sure. Maybe think about consulting a therapist for yourself. Sibling is acting like a toddler. Stand firm with your budget, and try to not get drawn in to their drama. Best of luck.

    I wish I had an answer for you - I'm no lawyer, but it seems to me you might be able to resign your position and assign it to someone else who is outside of the family? Could you pay a lawyer to do the same for a minimal amount of money? That way there's no blame on you and their accountability is monitored by a 3rd party. Wishing you the best!

    I have a friend who works as a professional fiduciary, and from what she has told me about her work she provides the kinds of supervision it sounds like you want out of. I'm not recommending her specifically (I haven't used her services) but here's a website for Professional Fiduciaries Bureau ( They can handle things like bill paying and the like. This might be an option for you instead of putting yourself in the role of bad guy.

    If you can't outsource, my sense is that education and resources aren't going to change your sibling's money behavior so there's no point in delaying instituting a spending limit.

    Oh, how I can relate! We should start a support group. My sibling is almost 60 and acts like he’s 18. My parents did not set up a trust. Great that your parents did that. I highly recommend that you set the monthly limit to what you think is appropriate for their “pocket money” plus set aside a bit extra annually for special things. All basic necessities should be on autopay, but you should send him the invoices every month (and if you can stand it, have a coffee and sit with him for 15 mins a month and very simply go over the autopay expenses, so he can see that the trust is actually giving him a lot of money to have a roof over his. You cannot change his behavior unless he wants to. My sibling kind of wants to and still isn’t able to. There is a lot of mental illness here. I say that not to excuse the behavior, but to acknowledge that it’s difficult to change. If you are like me and do want to honor your parents’ wishes and assure your sibling isn’t homeless, then you also need to do it in a way that is sustainable AND is emotionally healthy for you. I’m striving and struggling for the same. Good luck!

    I think you should resign as trustee and appoint a professional. This could either be a “professional fiduciary” (an individual) or a corporate trustee (like a bank or trust company). They have policies and systems and are used to saying no and following the terms of the document. Corporate trustees are great options in situations like this - you don’t want this kind of stress following you for the rest of your life and it sounds like your sibling needs firm boundaries that you’re (understandably) having a hard time maintaining. 

    Switch to cash or debit card. Make it a weekly allowance. If they want to spend on non-essentials, they can but they need to save it up from the weekly allowance.

    Only problem is if they find a way to open a credit card and abuse the system. Then you have to pay off credit card on top of the cash they spent.

    This sounds like a very difficult position for both you and your sibling to be in. You can’t force your sibling to take a course and learn the skills they should have as an adult. The picture you’ve painted shows they don’t want to/cannot learn to be responsible. Like you said, you have your own family to take care of. I think you should remove yourself as trustee. Best of luck, this sounds very hard.


    Sorry that you're in this stressful situation. I agree with the other writer, that you should give him a monthly allotment, basically autopilot, and that he has be budget it or come up with ways to supplement it. Stand strong. It's not a fight or negotiation, it just is. Also, I hope he can talk to a straight up financial coach. I used to watch Gail Vox Oxlade "Princess", she'll give you some gumption.

    Good luck

    Reading these thoughtful responses, it occurred to me that a daily limit might be more functional than a monthly limit on the Truelink card. A person that does not have the capacity, working memory, or executive function to manage their money may need to actually run out per day to feel that limit and alter their behavior. I realize a daily limit seems more controlling and may stress your relationship further but it's just a thought. I wonder if it would actually result in LESS friction than having the sibling run out of money half way through the month and not be able to provide their own basic needs. I also like the idea of alerting the therapist to the money situation so that the therapist can understand what's at stake and can keep your sibling on task.

    similar circumstances. have you considered hiring a professional fiduciary to take over your duties. you can still call the shots and retract it if you want, but it puts another person between your and sibling letting them be the 'bad guy'. sure it will cost something, but at the rate your sibling is going, that might be the better deal. best of luck. signed, also the adult in the family

  • Hi there, We are going to receive a financial gift that is way under the lifetime cap of 12 million dollars, but over the yearly cap of $15,000. Any recommendations for a tax professional that can ensure we are filing the form correctly, ensuring my father is not double taxed, and implications for taxes in the years to come? I'm a non profit worker who has used TurboTax for all previous filings, so I'm feeling a bit blind and cautious here. Thanks in advance! 

    Just as an FYI, your dad (the gift giver) is the one who needs to file the 709, not you (the gift recipient). And the yearly cap is $16,000. 

    Nini Yang 408-464-7563

    she does my taxes. She’s fabulous and really understands tax code. 

    Yes, I am a tax specialist and a lawyer who has experience with the Federal Gift Tax 709 form.

    1. The donor, your father, submits the form.

    2. If the donor is a CA resident there is no equivalent state filing required. Other states may have a state gift tax. If he is in a foreign county, this does not apply.

    3. The form is easy to complete. He can download a paper form from and mail it in. My outfit charges $400 when I complete the form for a client.

    4. Your father can split the gift between you and your husband, if applicable.

    5. He will enter the donees SSNs.

    6. He will check the box for "creeit against his lifetime ($12M ) exclusion.amount.

  • Hi - I am a widow, and my husband's mother is in her late 80's.  She told me several years ago she wanted to leave money to all the grandkids after she passed away.  At the time, she told me the stipulations for my kids (all the grandkids?) would be that the money could only be used for educational purposes, and the kids had to be drug and alcohol free.  I found out recently she hasn't finalized setting up this trust.  I guess I wanted to consult a lawyer about what would my kids possibly be entitled to if she passes away without setting up a trust.  Also if she does set up a trust with these conditions, are there any legal issues we should be aware of?  My husband's family is very secretive about money in general, and I'm considered an outsider because I'm the in-law, so asking them for more information directly won't work.  Even asking them for a copy of a finalized trust would be considered invasive.  Thanks.

    Not a lawyer, but if your MIL has living children and dies without a will or trust, her estate would eventually (after probate) pass to them. Your children are entitled to nothing. I don't really see a solution for you that doesn't involve asking her directly if she plans to establish a trust, who would be the trustees, who would be the beneficiaries, etc. Honestly why not just assume there is not going to be an inheritance? If she had sincerely intended to help grandkids with education, she would have set up 529s.

    My mom had a trust and told me what it said, but for me not to tell anyone else.  But after that (having been diagnosed with early stage Alzheimers), she changed her trust, and now I have no idea what she's doing with her estate.  I am just going to have to wait until she either tells me or else passes away.  If your husband's mother actually does have a trust, I think you are in a similar situation to me.  I don't think consulting a lawyer is going to help either of us (but you can talk with a lawyer of course).

    If she passes away without a will or trust, intestate succession laws will dictate who inherits (a lawyer would not be able to tell you anything different, or do anything about your children; she has to do that before she passes):

    Here's a quick overview:

    If you die with:

    here's what happens:

    • children but no spouse
    • children inherit everything
    • spouse but no children, parents, siblings, or nieces or nephews
    • spouse inherits everything
    • parents but no children, spouse, or siblings
    • parents inherit everything
    • siblings but no children, spouse, or parents
    • siblings inherit everything
    • a spouse and one child or grandchild
    • spouse inherits all of your community property and 1/2 of your separate property
    • a spouse and two or more children
    • spouse inherits all of your community property and 1/3 of your separate property
    • children inherit 2/3 of your separate property
    • a spouse and one child and one or more grandchildren from a deceased child
    • spouse inherits all of your community property and 1/3 of your separate property
    • children inherit 2/3 of your separate property
    • a spouse and two or more grandchildren from a deceased child
    • spouse inherits and 1/3 of your separate property
    • children inherit 2/3 of your separate property
    • a spouse and parents
    • spouse inherits all of your community property and 1/2 of your separate property
    • parents inherit 1/2 of your separate property
    • a spouse and siblings, but no parents
    • spouse inherits all of your community property and 1/2 of your separate property
    • siblings inherit 1/2 of your separate property

    Yes.  You need to consult a lawyer.  You should not rely on any advice you might get here -- except for recommendations for a lawyer.  The response from ECMom2, for example, is not entirely correct.  Your MIL may have a will, even if she has not set up a trust.  If she has neither a will nor a trust, the laws of intestate succession will control.  No one should offer an opinion on how those laws might apply here, since none of us knows who the potential heirs are.  Get thee to a lawyer.  Please. 

    I totally disagree with the comment sending you to a lawyer. You will just have to wait this out. Your kids are not 'entitled' to anything and since you won't//can't ask, there is no way you will know until it happens. The truth sucks. When my grandfather died he left EVERYTHING to ONE of my siblings, and there were 7 grandkids. My father dis-inherited 2 kids at the last minute. You never know what will happen and you can't control it. If they get something, that's great, and if not you need to let it go and move on. Money makes people crazy, especially in death.

    Drug and alcohol free? That’s rather extreme. What college student is alcohol-free? How could you even prove that?

    I suggest that you offer to help her to set up 529 plans for all the grandkids. This would be easier than setting up a trust, although she couldn’t stipulate anything about drugs and alcohol  which she can’t control anyway. In addition, she could front-load it, so  she could fund it and forget about it for five years  

    people don’t like to talk about money or death. So this will be difficult.  Good luck!!

  • We are moving our parents into assisted living this month.  They have a large rundown house full of a lifetime's worth of furniture and junk.  One realtor offered to run the estate sale, haul the junk, and pay the contractor to fix things up, with the idea that they will recoup their investment in a higher sale value.  This would take a big burden off of us, but it also sounds too good to be true.  Is it a good deal?  What should we be looking out for?

    I would not make it a deciding factor in which realtor you select to represent you in the house sale, but if the one you select happens to provide the junk disposal/estate sale service, I personally would take them up on it. Cleaning out someone's house when they go to assisted living is no fun. (speaking as an adult child with way too many elderly relatives with way too much stuff)  As to who hires and pays the contractor to fix up stuff before sale, I believe it is standard for the seller/owner to pay but maybe that has changed in this crazy market - maybe to get listings, realtors are willing to take that on?

    Totally depends on what you value. You're not going to make money off of it if you go through the real estate agent. My parents went through something similar with an estate sale company and and after all was said and done made something like $400. But they didn't want to deal with it so it was a good deal for them. Since your agent would be taking a cut I guess they would take it from the sales? Maybe your parents had more valuable things than my grandpa so you'd make more? Either way, if you don't want to do it and you don't need the money then it is a great deal no matter the outcome. Good luck! 

    I agree with the previous responder. If you're happy with this agent and want to for sure work with them then... GREAT! It's NOT too good to be true at all. But. Do know that you are lucking out - big time! As an agent myself, I know that many of us will go to great lengths to get a listing (in this environment, getting a listing is something of a guaranteed paycheck for us while working with buyers is NOT) but most of us couldn't afford to undertake that kind of time/financial risk. I'm actually very surprised when I see so many agents take on a listing and sell it "as is" for so much less than it could've gone for with a little fixing up. I've only been doing this work for a few years now, so maybe there's something that I don't yet understand about that strategy/way of thinking, but... Why would anyone NOT spend the money to fix up such a property when it means getting hundreds of thousands of dollars MORE for your seller???? In the Bay Area that seems like a no-brainer. Good for you for finding this gem of an agent!



     I have a lot of experience in real estate and recommend you do the following before you make any decisions:

    1. Shop around - reach out to a few other agents (look online) and ask them what they would take on vs not in your situation. 
         - Look at their previous experiences and see if they have any experience in taking on something like this. 
         - Ask for references or at least look online to see if there are any comments or feedback from other clients.
         - Understand what they would be 'charging' or want in compensation for this additional work, e.g., a higher commission on the sale price, etc.
    2. Contact a few estate sale companies to see under what services they would offer in your situation, get an estimated price/quotes, etc.
    3. Some questions to ask:
        - How the house and its contents would sell for in their current state vs. sale price after fixing and upgrading. 
        - What is being recommended to fix and renovate and how much would it cost? 
        - A good paint job, plus upgrading the bathroom and the kitchen can go a long way towards resale value if done properly.
    5. Regardless of which direction you go, make sure you have a proper contract and agreement that clearly spells out what is covered vs. not covered.

    I just spent months and months and a lot of money and heartache trying to organize the estate sale, junk hauling, and fix up and staging of my parents’ run down place full of artwork, collections, and 80 years worth of momentos. The scrapbooks alone easily took a month to go through! I would recommend you take that realtor up on their offer! It does sound too good to be true but in this market this may be the norm. Just make sure you know up front what any costs will be to you or the estate. Good luck. It’s not easy…

    We recently bought a house from someone who used their realtor to haul and hire a contractor. The "contractor" clearly had no idea what he was doing and made a series of errors that we, as buyers were then left with. Some of these were minor but some were seriously dangerous and illegal (e.g. gas line was installed almost humorously improperly and was leaking gas into the walls). We went back to the selling agent and actually threatened to sue her and the buyers if they didn't reimburse us for getting everything done correctly by a licensed GC. It seemed the buyers didn't have any idea just how egregious the agent and handyman were and they simply trusted the agent to do good work. If I were you, I'd ask the realtor who he/she is planning on hiring and what their qualifications are. Good luck!

    Hello! I actually think this is pretty common. Usually how it works if the person doing to sale takes a percentage of the sales. Are they doing that or just wrapping it into the sale of the house? 

  • Inherited money - keep a secret from BFF?

    (24 replies)

    I inherited money. Lots of it. It was unexpected. My immediate family wasn’t all that rich but my extended family was. 

    How much you ask? Enough to buy a really nice house in Berkeley and fund college education and retirement. We have a tiny place, we are behind on retirement, and didn’t expect to contribute to kids education. So yeah that’s all great. 

    My question is this. My best friend. I haven’t told her how much. I haven’t told anyone really. But it will all become rather clear as we upgrade our lifestyle. 

    This makes me feel weird, and distant from the friend I share innermost thoughts with. She’s had financial and personal set backs due to Great Recession and divorce. She’s doing well but will probably not ever buy a house in the Bay Area. She’s had a ton of crap happen in the last ten years. I feel weird not telling her details. And I’d feel weird telling her details. What if she’s jealous? What if by telling her our relationship changes? What if she tells other people?  What if what if. 

    Any thoughts about this? Experiences related to sharing money details to people? 

    Thank you for your advice! 

    I will be impressed if you are able to navigate this without it changing (harming) your friendship. In my experience, it is tough to be friends with people who have very different financial circumstances from yours.  It's going to hurt your friendship if you don't say anything, either.  I guess I would vote for half-truth. You inherited enough money to be able to buy a house.  I would leave out the fully-funded retirement and the college fund.  The house is hard to hide, but she doesn't need to see your Vanguard statements. 

    Also, you didn't ask for financial advice, but be careful with your windfall! Buy a decent house, but don't go nuts. You may need a lot more for retirement than you think - you may want to be able to help your kids beyond their college education - you may have expenses you don't anticipate.  Take advantage of the fact you are used to a modest lifestyle, and don't upgrade too much. And get a good accountant so you stay on top of your tax situation. 

    Windfall money is very hard on friendships and relationships.  Lots of people start asking for money. They start expecting you to pick up the tab for dinner, etc...  Somehow, people see it differently than earned money.  It’s tough to navigate.  Is it worth buying a big house if it costs you your longtime friendships?

    As to buying a big house, I would think long and hard about it before doing it.  The taxes are enormous and just keep growing each year.  Taxes are a big ongoing cost that you will need to factor into your annual costs both now and throughout retirement.  Truly, talk to a financial advisor before upgrading your house.

    As to funding retirement and college—yes!  What a relief to take care of those big items, especially from inheritance money.

    Another idea—think about using the money to fund an investment that can earn money for you into your retirement.  Several family members have bought rental properties, and they are very happy with the long term income especially into retirement.  This might take a bit of work to find a well-priced investment property in the Bay Area.

    Funding retirement, college, and investments are things that aren’t so visible, so it can be easier on your friendships.  If you have been wanting to dump your friends and make new ones...well, then, it’s another thing.  :)

    I think you need to tell your friend. If you keep it from her, she will find out some other way. Secrets like this are never good. She might be envious, or not, but that's okay, if you are good friends you can weather this. Allow her to have whatever feelings she has.  I think she would feel betrayed if you don't talk with her about it. I also suggest that you talk with someone else first to process what this brings up for you. If I were your friend, I would definitely want to know. 

    Say nothing. If she asks, say you received some unexpected money and leave it at that. A good friend will not pry, and a good friend will deal with her jealousy and not let it ruin the friendship. For your part, just be discrete and don't brag about it and no one can expect anything more from you. You don't have to apologize for this, or save people from their own emotions. If someone wants to ruin a friendship over their own jealousy there's not much you can do about it. 

    I very much agree with the previous advice and find it wise.   You could simply say that the inheritance allowed you to make a substantial down payment on the new house.   I inherited a chunk of money when I was a young adult and felt awkward, so I didn't talk about it but I did things others weren't doing, e.g., travel.   I also know how resentful I feel about friends who are 'trust fund babies.'   So I agree that you shouldn't talk about anything beyond the house but that alone may be trying.  I don't know your m.o., but talking w/ her directly about it as you have in this post would be great---e.g., I love you and our friendship and I don't want this to come between us---gives her permission to express her feelings.   That's ok if it doesn't go on for years.  Perhaps you could invite her out for something special that you normally wouldn't do, and pay for it, as a special treat/celebration.       Also agree that you should talk w/ a financial planner who can help you lay out the next 15 years or so, or longer, with a reasonable spending plan.    

    I agree with previous poster on revealing the house part as that cannot be hidden.  as far as the monetary assets, that I would keep private and/or divulge some of it.  ie: we set up an account with 10k in it to start a college fund.  that can be the truth without divulging that you also have 500k invested elsewhere.  most of my close friends and I do not discuss/disclose exactly what we have/not have financially.  

    as far as damaging your friendship?  that's harder to call.  I would spend some serious time thinking about the possible directions this could go.  also, what will you do if she (or anyone else for that matter) asks for financial gifts or loans.  money solves a lot of problems, but also creates them.  make a plan and have boundaries.  a good financial advisor may be able to help you with this.  they work with many folks in your shoes.  be upfront and honest (minus the part you want discreet), and be the person you always have been in the relationship.  you cannot control what she does with the information, all you can do is be compassionate and honest.  this very much reminds me of the situation of infertility and friends getting pregnant.  I was unable to have kids and yes it compel me to distance myself from good and old friends who were blessed with kids.  I miss them, but I was filled with much anguish being around their happiness...  also, I could not be the friend they deserved under the circumstances.  life isn't fair and relationships do not all survive the twists and turns of circumstance.  no good guys, no bad guys.  just life.  best of luck to you.  this is hard.

    I understand this one. I didn't inherit as much as you but a lot more than I ever expected or anticipated. My BFF has always been on a very tight budget and it felt weird to suddenly stop worrying so much about money while she had to budget for every latte. I never told her how much I got and she never asked (actually, I don't think that anyone really asked for details. I know that I wouldn't). I really didn't change my lifestyle all that much but I did do things like paint the house, replace windows, replace a gross car, etc. I tried very hard to act exactly the same as I did before towards her. I think that people like to pull their own weight and they don't want to be pitied. If I wanted to do something that I knew she couldn't afford, I'd ask if she'd go with me as my date. I convinced her that it was a lot more fun for me when she was there and she was okay with that sometimes. But I more often tried to plan the things with her that I knew that she wanted to do and could afford. 

    My advice is to not worry too much about it. If the money doesn't change you, it shouldn't change your friendship.

    This is sticky! Especially if you were transparent about finances previously. Don't tell anybody how much. I think that is inappropriate. And don't talk about money and how to spend or save or invest. And don't start flaunting with expensive jewelry or designer purses. Don't put anything in your husband's name. It is your money. Keep it separate. Men have a way of suddenly turning on their wives. Just say you got a surprise inheritance and money will not be as tight as it has been in the past. 

    When people's circumstances are so different, it is hard to be friends. One has kids the other doesn't. One works full time the other doesn't. One is rich one is poor. It is possible, but unlikely. Don't reveal too much. Let her assume that your husband got a promotion. But don't lie either. I would suggest becoming more generous, but don't go crazy. Offer to pick up the tab when you go out. Get her a holiday gift that is a bit nicer than what you got in the past. 

    Continue the conversations of the past: kids, politics, hobbies, whatever. Be the same person you always were. And hope for the best. 

    So you've had some good luck and your friend has had some bad luck.  Of course she'd be jealous.  Would it ruin the friendship?  Hard to say, but more likely to ruin things if you're dishonest than if you're open and communicate about what is happening.  

    But the first thought that came to my mind was: Why don't you share with your friend?  After all, you did nothing to earn this money.  So why are you more deserving of it than your friend?  I'm sure she'll be thinking about that, so maybe you should too.

    Imagine on your deathbed you reflect on your life: family, work/career, community, friendships. What do you want to not regret?  What do you want to say you felt good about, accomplished?  Just an idea

    I agree with the response not to tell her everything.  My first instinct was also for you to also say, hey, I received this unexpected money and I’d like to gift some to you.  Then pay your luck forward and write her a check.  It might not be enough to change her life but might help ease her burdens.  

    I was in a somewhat similar situation a few years ago. I was vague with my closest friends about my finances, and I think that's a good way to go in general. I don't know how my friends paid for their houses, unexpected medical expenses, luxury items, and they don't know how I have paid for mine. It is implied, if you end up buying a house, that you got a down payment from somewhere, so people may still get an inkling that you are either a super-saver or perhaps received a windfall. There are so many things to bond over with your friend, but maybe your different financial worlds don't have to be one of them!

    In the meantime, it sounds like you have some great ideas about investing this new-found wealth. Might I suggest sitting with the funds invested as-is for a year or so before making any big moves, get used to the amount and think through how to use them with a financial adviser -- as you may know some people get blinded by the short-term rewards of new money, but I'm sure you won't fall prey to that!

    Another poster here brings up a good point about taxes -- if these inherited accounts are from IRAs that would require RMDs, there is a benefit to taking yearly RMDs rather than lump sums. I'm sure you already knew that, but just in case you had not known about that (I had a big learning curve in your situation), make sure to look into it before the end of the year :)

    There is no reason you need to share the full financial details of your what received with your friend or anyone else outside of your immediate family or financial/tax professionals you hire.  I would tell her that you got an inheritance and it was enough for you to be able to afford to buy a house.  You owning a home as opposed to renting one should not change your relationship.  Unless you are planning on significantly increasing your standard of living (i.e. getting housekeeper/daily maid, visibly more household help or help with kids, very expensive home, private schools, etc.) then there is no reason she should know how much you have sitting in your bank, brokerage and other accounts.  Frankly I don't even share the actual amount income that I bring home -- I'm sure that based on our standard of living our friends think we make way less than we really do, but this is fine since I don't want others, even friends, to know about the income/assets we have to avoid the exact same issues you are worried about.  If you don't say anything and don't make drastic changes, there is no reason why she should or would ever find out. 

    Like the previous poster stated, buy a modest house, don't go nuts. Like the advice many give when you get a raise at work, keep the same lifestyle and day-to-day budget, save more. You will probably need more money for retirement and higher education. 

    Speaking from a similar situation, money makes things complicated with relationships, even the most honest and open ones. In an age of wanting to share everything with everyone, privacy and modesty should be just as important. 

    I basically agree with the advice to tell the almost-whole truth: we're buying a house with the inheritance I got from my extended family. Don't complain to her about all the work that comes with managing money or the difficulty in finding just the right house. She may want some distance from you in the short term or the long term; respect that and don't make it any weirder than it needs to be for her. Or, she may be perfectly happy for you and not feel the need to compare her situation to yours. Just be aware of not "rubbing it in" by for example, not taking her along house-hunting.

    I would say it's not unusual for friends to have radically different financial circumstances. Share your joy with her, and yes, tell her how happy you are about buying a house. She will share in your joy, if not, there's something wrong. There s no reason to be specific about the numbers.

    Why not share? People in this country are weird about money. Do you love your friend? Why not make a little sharing fund for yourself and find small ways to share the windfall with her. Clearly all your needs are covered now, how hard could it be to open about it and share. 

    Is it possible to update your lifestyle more incrementally, and attribute vaguely to a combination of work/career success and some inheritance? I minimize (and make vague) the actual dollar amounts. I say this because it's actually easy to have a lot of money in the bay area and not be super showy about it, just because living here is so expensive. We've had a single-earner household with an income that's gone from 400k a year five or so years ago now to 1million (post tax) this past year. We have a house we bought for around 700k and go on vacations, but besides that, no one could really tell how much $ we have. We give 10% of our net income and fully fund retirement/kids' education - but these things are done privately. What people see is that we don't go out to eat a ton, we shop at Berkeley Bowl and Trader Joes, we buy clothes from Banana Republic and Old Navy during the holiday sales and buy what we can discounted after Black Friday. I don't think you need to change your lifestyle thaaaat much. 

    Not directly addressing your question about your friend (others have offered a lot of input on that), but wanted to add - be sure you immediately take care of designating beneficiaries for wherever the money is at the moment.  If you haven't already, you'll want to consider setting up a trust (not just a will) with that many assets. Just in case!!  (I'm not an attorney, just sharing what I've learned)

    Original poster here. Thanks for the stories and advice. We are hiring a financial planner and thinking hard about things. No big upgrades planned as of yet! I think I’ll continue to be vague and hope for the best. 

    I will weigh in because no one has answered who has been on the receiving end of this. My BFF inherited enough money so that she never had to work again. She told me all the details about the lump sum she got immediately and the trust set up to give her money each month. Her monthly amount was more than I make.

    It was a little hard at first but within a month or so things were back to normal. If it had been a couple years earlier when we almost lost our house, it would have been harder but we still would have gotten through it. If we had been about to lose our house and she offered us $10K so we wouldn’t, I would have accepted and it wouldn’t have ruined the friendship (at least on my side) but if she offered or we expected a monthly maintenance fee, I think that would have broken us. If it hadn’t been a dire circumstance it would have been weird to be offered money. She was already better off than we were but by the time she got the money we weren’t struggling so much.

    Her lifestyle has changed; she has “people” for most mundane tasks — house cleaner a full day a week (who also does all laundry), a dog walker, a handyman who comes by on a semi-regular basis to do any accumulated tasks, someone to do errands 20hours/week, a gardener,.... But with all that, I don’t think she is happier. There are definitely a lot of people who try to take advantage of her.

    On my side, I have had to be careful to make sure I don’t slide into letting her pay for stuff. I generally pay for lunch at the hole-in-the-wall restaurant we both like. We split bills when I don’t pay. I don’t go out to $300/person dinners with her since while we could pay for it, we very definitely notice it and I find myself bitter about the money spent. I’m sure there are similar adjustments on her side.

    Good luck.

    Thanks for asking this question so honestly--and so fascinating to hear the range of responses. 

    One resource I would suggest is an organization called Resource Generation. While their focus is around young people (which I think they define as younger than 30) who have inherited wealth, they have some good articles about how to handle money, privacy and wealth, while keeping important relationships in your life. They also have a big social-justice sense and framework.

    I'd also recommend Iris Brilliant, who used to work for Resource Generation, and now has a consulting business that works specifically with people around inheritances.

    A financial advisor is never a bad idea, and Iris Brilliant may have suggestions of who would be a good financial advisor for someone with this kind of inheritance situation. 

    Not sure if you are married, but realize that an inheritance to you is not community property in California.  It belongs only to you and in case of divorce you keep it all no matter the circumstances.  However, if you commingle the inheritance with marital property it becomes community property like all the marital assets. 

  • My mother and father have both passed away, and myself and my three brothers are beginning to figure out how we will distribute our parents' belongings. We live in three different states, spread around the country. I am wondering if people know about an online computer tool that will help us use photos to identify the possessions and then have a computer-based discussion about who would like each item. If you don't know about this, are people aware of support organizations that help adult children manage these aspects of parents' death, estate resolution, etc.? Thank you. has some tools online around estate planning (although you'd have to adapt for this situation). In our family, there was lots of discussion of what to do with all "mom's stuff" but until my spouse and his sister organized their calendars to both be there (at their childhood home in a third city) at the same weekend with a game plan, nothing happened. I would suggest trying to schedule just you and your siblings (no spouses, strong teenage sons OK!) for 2-3 days, with the goal of inventorying everything. Leave it at that for now (not positing it as the "take what you want" weekend) and you may get more cooperation in a good spirit. Good luck, this is not a fun part of family life. (Hopefully I'm just projecting!!)

    My Mom is low tech so we didn't get this to work.  For my Gma's household items I suggested she make a Google doc (very easy for all to access & simutaneously update).  My focus was more to help my Mom who lives in same town as my Grandmother.  I thought my Mom could list some of the weird things at my Gma's house (old oxygen tank from Gpa, very hazardous insecticides, etc) and then my Uncle (very social & web savvy but lives out of town) could make calls and do research to help her find places to get rid of these items.  He would then add details of his research and organization contact info in the Google doc.    

    Per other suggestion, getting together is very helpful.  Some people have eye for what should go to Goodwill vs. Estate Sale and some do not.  Also, we are finding it very interesting what's special to someone vs. others.  My cousin wanted some gong that my Gma used to call people to dinner.  My Gma never used that w/ us and I barely knew it existed.  

Archived Q&A and Reviews


What to do with $100,000 inheritance?

April 2010

We need advice and/or a recommendation for a someone who could give us advice....we recently inherited this large sum of money and are struggling with what to do with it in the short and long term. We are a family of 3, owe couple hundred thousand on our Oakland house, have not saved much for retirement (but expect more inheritance down the road), and our daughter has a college fund that her grandfather contributes to...We are not financially savvy AT ALL and don't know what to do with it beyond taking care of household/yard concerns. Should we renovate our small house that we are outgrowing, move to an area with better schools, invest? Anybody have general recommendations? We are so afraid to make the wrong choice that it is simply sitting in our bank savings account. lucky to have this problem


I know an amazing Financial Advisor for Merrill Lynch (previously Banc of America Investments). His name is Blake Welpton and he has an office at the Bank of America in Montclair and a second one in the Merrill Lynch Building in downtown Oakland. He has a fantastic understanding of the financial world and truly cares about his clients. His main interest is making your money grow. Give him a call and make an appointment. He'll be happy to sit down with you and give you advice. Blake Welpton Merrill Lynch 510-457-2030

Good Luck! Making my money grow

I would suggest you speak to a professional. You may want to invest now or later. I go to Jennifer Fish at Merrill Lynch in Oakland. She is down to earth and I loved/hated it that she insisted that I understand what I was doing with my money. No one can beat the market for you but a good broker can help you figure out what you want - spend some now, security, risk?

Congratulations. I really suggest that you plan for the future. A lot of people run though money having fun and then it's gone and they wonder what they spent it on. dck

It's very simple really. Give it to me! anon

Get yourself to a qualified financial planner immediately. You'd be wise to let an expert in these matters help you rather than rely on the advice of friends or others when you don't know their qualifications. Financial planners will help determine the best short and long term use for the money. You're right, I *wish* I had your problem.

I am not a financial planner but my husband and I both come from families that lived frugrally but well. In your situation, I would first make sure that you have an emergency fund in a safe place, like a CD or higher interest savings account, not the stock market. (There are online banks that pay better rates than brick and mortar ones.) Make sure that your emergency fun covers 3-6 months of living expenses.

I also would never want to be in a position where I'm counting on an inheritance to feel secure for my own retirement. People live a long time, and I just would rather keep my financial security under my own control. That's why I would use this windfall to jump-start your retirement savings. You could start a Roth IRA and -- if you have it at work -- start contributing to your 401K. You can also find some low-cost index mutual funds to invest some money.

If you want to read up further, I would read the book Making the Most of Your Money by Jane Bryant Quinn. She has updated it lately, but I read it 10 years ago as a newlywed and it helped my husband and I become comfortable about taking charge of our money. You should definitely do something to treat yourselves, whether it is a vacation or improvements to the house, but I would use the majority of it (say 90%) to think about protecting your family and yourself in the future. You'll sleep better at night. Kelly

See a financial planner. Amy Blodgett in San Francisco is great. C

Invest some of it in sessions with a good financial planner. S/he can help you figure out exactly what to do with your inheritance. We recently worked with Julie Asti, a financial planner in Berkeley, and it was worth every penny. We are not so good with money ourselves and the fee we paid Julie bought us peace of mind and helped us see how to make some of our life goals a reality. Good professional advice will help you make the most of your inheritance. go to an expert

It's hard to give advice without knowing information such as how much you've saved for retirement, how much debt you have, how old you are and how old your child is. For that reason, you might want to see a financial adviser. If you have an IRA, you should have an account manager who will meet with you and go over all your finances for free. My husband and I did this recently and it was very helpful. That said, this is what I'd do with the $100,000. First, I'd take 3-6 months of living expenses and put them in rotating CDs. For example you could take $40,000 and have four $10,000 CDs, one for 3 months, one for 6, one for 9 and one for 12. That way you are making a bit better interest than a savings account, but have the money available to you for the short term. Next, I'd take $5,000-$10,000 for a money market account. That will be your immediate rainy day fund in case the sewer needs to be replaced, the house painted, taxes paid etc. Once you have your safety net, I'd pay off debt, especially high interest credit card debt (only exception to this might be a low interest home equity loan). After that, if you don't have them I'd start a ROTH IRA for each of you. I believe you can contribute $9,600 a year as a couple, but you should check that number. With your safety net established, you could contribute more to a 401K which would help save for retirement. Fan of the Safety Net

You really need to consult with a financial advisor right away. I would suggest trying with your insurance company to see if they offer that service for free first. Otherwise, try doing a search on the internet for someone from a reputable company in your area. Isadora

After reading the first set of replies, I'd like to say that the replies were all good, especially the one with the detailed approach about laddering CDs for emergency fund, money market fund, paying off high interest debt, etc.

To that, I'd like to add another word of advice. Keep in mind that there is a difference between people who offer financial advice on a fee-for-service basis and those who recommend specific investment vehicles that pay them a commission. I'd strongly urge paying for financial planning advice on an hourly basis as there is an inherent conflict of interest in placing money in investments that reward the seller with a commission.

I would also strongly advise against investing in anything you don't understand. A few years back my husband was going to invest $30,000 with Merrill Lynch. We both had a couple of sessions with them and at the end still couldn't get them to explain their funds, the A shares, the B shares, etc. in a way we could understand. In the end we left feeling like they were trying to take adavantage of our lack of understanding so we opted to invest on our own instead.

If you choose to put money in a mutual fund, you can do that yourself without having to pay a broker. You might also consider investing in no-load (i.e., no cost) index funds with Vanguard--they have some of the lowest operating costs available. Many mutual funds have a load of 1 or 2% either when the money goes in or when the money goes out. You can certainly find no-load funds that earn the same yield without the extra cost. One or two percent may not sound like much but over time the difference can be huge.

You can also follow the advice about setting aside money for an emergency, paying off debt, etc., and then park the rest in a money market and take some time to do some research on your own. You don't have to invest all of it at one time.

Good luck. What a great ''problem'' to have. anonymous

Lucky you, what a gift! I would definitely put it towards your mortgage. It would be such a relief to pay your house down entirely, and then not have to worry about how to make ends meet! I wish we had this!

The one concern about an investment adviser, is that you have to remember that they will promote their own interests (i.e., making money off of you). Now, if you make more money, they also make more money, so that is good, but you will never catch them telling you to put some (or all) towards your mortgage or your children's education.

Eric Tyson has written some good books -- read up on the basics of personal finance and you will be able to do it all on your own.

Most advisors charge a % on your portfolio. they will put your money and other accts into investments that supposedly only they have access to, but charge hefty fees on the front, and back end.

I had retained advisors for years and the one thing they were all good at was making me feel great about my choice. I was on a ''high'' for several years and wanted everyone around me to get an advisor. At some point I got curious about what seemed like a guaranteed income stream for my advisor via that pesky monthly WRAP fee on my statements, and a few spreadsheets later I discovered that my return was anywhere between -5% to +3% per year, but regardless of that, the advisor was making a nice sum of money. I also found that the investments they had supposedly told me where prime money market accounts, but were well below every other bank and brokerage, the funds they put me in had far higher maintenance and redemption fees, etc. I moved my money out and had to endure that whole drama of ''how could you leave this long relationship we've established'' and all that (seriously!) and was able to have better liquidity, higher yields, fewer fees, less complexity, and far better control of my money.

100K is not all that much money to manage yourself. If you think it is too complicated, it will be even more complicated to figure out how much money your fin advisor and your funds are making in fees.

It may sound scary to think that you can manage 100K, but it really is not all that much or overly complicated, or time consuming. There are basic principles on how to get started and a good book, or some blogs will tell you how to get started. I you want to compare rates, etc, is a great website. Vanguard has a website where people who manage money on their own exchange hints and info.

After I started managing my money on my own, I put it all into local and smaller institutions, and I gave it three years. At the end of that I calculated how much my fin advisor would have made from me, and gave it to a charity. (By then I began getting checks from my former advisor's firm due to some class action settlement which dictated that they compensate their clients for excessive fees and other such ''events''). I learned a lot about how deregulated the whole industry is.

You can do it! nick

We inherited about $200k a few years ago, and used to to buy a home (didn't own one yet), and then have a safety net. Since then, we then sold that home & bought in a good school district, so we won't have that cost to worry about. Then, 401k is your big focus, especially if you haven't saved much there (while of course leaving the traditional 3-6 months or more in liquid savings).

You'll be surprised but while it sounds like a lot, it won't change your lives! Last thing - don't live as though you're counting on that next inheritance - you never know, as those who invested with Bernie Madoff will tell you:) All for smart spending

Before you embark on any course of action, I lay here before you a true story of three little pigs:

Matriarch pig lives in a filthy hole. Never spends a penny. Is frugal beyond reason. While alive she denies herself all comforts and then dies leaving each of the three little pigs with $500k each.

Little pig number one is the youngest and spends the funds on two cars, one motorcycle, more than one racing bike, travel, an education at $40k per year institution, but doesn't finish. Much irresponsibility later this little pig goes on to a terrific job, family with 2.5 pigs, an advanced degree completed later. Now: happy and doing well.

Little ''middle'' pig spends it on therapy, travel, and finishing an undergraduate degree at less expensive institution. This pig diversified, used advisors paid on commission, advisors paid by flat fee, and did self piggy research. Two great big investment windfalls and three huge losses later (.com + real estate bust) the only thing this pig has to show for $:are lessons of therapy, foreign language skill, therapist's house remodel completed due to piggy patronage. Now: in career transition, divorced, single parent. Still - Happy and doing well.

Little pig number three is the eldest: therapy, an advanced degree (finished BA yrs before). Traveled somewhat, but mostly used the funds a little here, a little there, to supplement this years self employment income, that car repair, fund this great cause and those dinners out, weekends away, the training here and there; as income while attending school full time and unpaid internships in new field once advanced study was finished. Now: Single, great job, happy and doing well.

The moral of this story is that there is no right or wrong thing to do. We used the money based on our values, to the best of our ability. No matter which advice you follow-your own, or someone else's- you'll only be as happy as you ever were before the windfall- even if nothing works out the way you thought it should. Piggy

Husband not interested in his inheritance

March 2009

My husband's parents are both deceased and his mom passed away recently-- about 8 months ago. He does not seem interested in claiming his inheritance. He claims to know what it is (a home in the bay area, perhaps some small investments) but he hasn't seen the Trust and is only relying on his siblings account of things. He has two older siblings who took charge of caring for their mom as her health declined over the past 5 years. He feels immense guilt at not having done more for her, but there are many factors that contributed to this (we live farther away, have small children, his siblings took charge of things without consulting him ....). I think the guilt is preventing him from pursuing his inheritance. I'm unfamiliar with how things work with in this kind of situation. Is 8 months a realistic amount of time to wait to see the trust? I'm not sure that I trust his siblings--they are renting the family home out and I don't know where that income is going to. They said the lawyer is putting the property in their names, but would it take this long? Obviously this is a very sensitive subject for my husband. When I bring it up he gets stressed. I know its the guilt. He told me he doesn't think he deserves as much of the inheritance because he didn't help out as much when his mom was sick, even though he's been there at other times for her. Maybe it's none of my business--is it? We could really use the extra money, but he seems in no hurry to figure it all out. Am I overstepping my boundries? Do I sound insensitive? Should I stop bringing it up? Anon

Since you are married, your husband's action/inaction with regard to his inheritance, impacts both of you and, IMHO is a topic for BOTH of you to consider.

What do you think would work for you in terms of solving this problem for yourself?

If I were in your shoes I would request permission to contact the lawyer involved in the estate myself (if husband cannot/will not do so) to simply get the facts.

The lawyer should be automatically keeping all siblings informed of the progress on settling the estate in writing. If the lawyer does not have contact information for your husband, it could be the reason s(he) is not doing so.

I invite you to take action on behalf of your family, especially in the information gathering stage. Sandy

I think the uncertainty of the situation is what is bothering you. If you are OK with your husband just letting the money go (and really, if that is what he wants, you should be OK with it) then tell him that. But I think it is fair to ask to *make* this decision, not just let it happen because he didn't want to deal with it and simply let things slide. If he wants his other siblings to have the inheritance, he should tell you outright and tell them and then you can all move on.

MYOB. This is between your husband and his siblings. You have no say in this, ma'am. sibling too

Your situation seems still too vague to give much of a response, but just from my own recent experience I thought I could add a few things. My father died last year - the estate is still not settled and will not be, according to the estate lawyer, until some time next year, mainly because his estate was large enough to require dealing with the IRS which takes some time. It is not the case that inheritances can be disbursed immediately, or even after 8 months. But what seems strange to me here is that you don't mention a will, an estate lawyer or an executor. All of these things would mean that sooner or later - if there as an inheritance - your husband would be informed about what would be coming to him. It would be almost impossible for anything to be done behind his back. However, if he's not even in the will, then that's the end of that - there's nothing for him to inherit. So either you contact the siblings and find out if he's included in the will, or try and figure out who the estate lawyer or who the executor is and ask the same questions. But your husband is not automatically entitled to anything here, if there was a will - so that may also be why he's not pursuing it - he may already know that there is nothing to claim. SM

Please back off. You want the money that is clear. Your husband was absent when needed the most and he wants his siblings to figure out their fair share and willingly take what they assign to him. That is his way of resolving his guilt and absence. He also wants to remain in good standing with his siblings. I hope you see how important that is to him. You pushing him into becoming more active about the inheritance (''get over your guilt and get some money for us'') is ignoring all of this and putting your household needs first. Staying in the background is your husband's apology to his siblings and also his genuine way of honoring them for the work they have done. It would look really weird and inappropriate if, all of a sudden, he wants to take a front seat. As a sibling I would be appalled by that. Please keep your financial problems/dreams out of it! Expect nothing and be grateful for what you end up receiving. Your husband does not need to be managed - I understand and support his reasoning completely and I agree with your implication that this is none of your business. Anonymous

Normally, I would say that what goes on in the other family should be off limits to you, but I benefited from my wife's perspective on this when I was in a similar position. She said I should claim my share, and to not trust my siblings since they were looking out for themselves only. I felt a lot of guilt too, but she convinced me that I didn't deliberately move far away to avoid looking after our mother. Your husband's siblings may have benefited in other ways, while looking after their mother. Their devotion is commendable, and if he wants to reward them in some way, he could.

I am not a lawyer, but I can imagine a case where after a period of time the sibling that does not come forward could forfeit their share. Get legal advice on this -- there may be statutes of limitation, etc, and the lawyer may just be waiting for them to expire so that he can put the house in their name. That's one reason it could take this long.

Be sensitive about your involvement in this. I don't think it is appropriate to express sentiments about his siblings, i.e. that YOU don't trust them. It might be more constructive to talk to him in a way that relieves his guilt a little more. He doesn't need to be so hard on himself. You have a great husband. Don't be hard on him for not pursuing this as a way to relieve your financial difficulties. Instead steer him more towards the idea that he needs to figure out and accept the trust as a way of honoring what his late mother really wanted.

What to do with small inheritance?

March 2007

By the end of June I will receive a small inheritance, somewhere between $5,000 and $9,000 US. I've never had this much money in one lump sum before, ( I am middle-aged and living hand to mouth), and need honest, professional advice on how to invest and grow it into enough to live on and support my small business. I am not looking to live extravagantly, but rather to cover monthly expenses, help with daycare and clothing expenses for my grandchildren, and donate to my pet causes. Any useful information or references will be greatly appreciated. Invisible woman

That amount of money is too small to ''grow into'' enough to live off of. If I were you, I would keep it all to myself as a rainy day fund, and/or put it towards retirement. Try no to give it all away. It's really not that much money, so be a little selfish. One possibility is to fund a Roth IRA for a few years in a row, that way what you get out of it will not be taxed. Invest it conservatively since it seems like you might be near retirement age. Ann Ominous

My advice is to open an interest earning account with ING Direct ( You can link this account to your checking account and easily transfer funds between the accounts. Assuming you earn about 5% on $8,000 you will have an extra $30-$35 per month to spend without using up any of your inheritance. If you choose not to spend the interest you earn but let it grow, you can expect your money to double in about 14 years. Of course this assumes that you are in a zero tax bracket and that you do not need to pay any tax on the interest. If you do pay tax, you will actually have less than $30 per month and it would take longer than 14 years for the money to double if left untouched. This is how the numbers look. Chances are if you spend a little here and a little there for this and that, then the whole thing will be gone before you know it. Whatever you do, have fun. As a wise person once said, ''Don't sweat the small stuff, and it is all small stuff.'' anon

Put the money in a high-yield savings account or a CD. You can get around 5 percent at most banks right now, or try a credit union. anon

To fight or not to fight for grandmothers estate?

March 2007

Hello, My best friend, my grandmother, just died. Over the last three years of her life her drug addicted 65 year old son had moved back into the house with her. It turns out that over that period before she died he had everything signed over to his name. The estate of my grandmother is really not a lot of money, but I and my mother (her daughter) are trying to decide if it is worth fighting for. The issue is not so much the money, there was about 5 thousand in the bank which he has already taken out and spent, and a car, which he has already given to his daughter who is a meth addictb&. So all that is left is the house really. And the thing is, as it is going to him or his daughter (who he found out about only after she was about 11 years old) will spend it on drugs. I feel it is such an insult to my grandmother that all she and my grandfather worked for is going to be spent by these two drug addicts, on , no doubt, drugs. My grandmother had three children and seven grandchildren; the one girl who stands to inherit everything was never anything but nasty to my grandmother. She has been in and out of jail. My uncle who got everything signed over to him is a perverted, abusive, drug addict. I think my grandmothers thinking was that my uncle would have no way to take care of himself and that her other two children, my mother and another uncle, are competent enough to do so. However, it is clear my uncle who signed the whole estate to himself is going to spend it fast, and probably on drugs. I think I should try and be zen, let it go, know my relationship with my grandmother is what counts, and the other part of me thinks we should fight him for it. My mother is asking my advice about what to do, and I am too emotional about the whole thing to give her good advice. need advice

Fight. Talk to a good probate attorney and fight. Get your options and costs figured out and make an informed decision. My husband had a situation happen where he was 'cut out' of the will and all was left to his sister by his Grandmother who was not very well balanced, and even less so at the time of her death. Long story short he regretted not challenging it. He later found out that he could easily have challenged it and had a fair hearing. (Whether in front of a judge or a probate officer I don't know).

I would be devastated if my hard work and investments never made it into my childrens, and grandchildrens hands because of underhanded methods. You need to do it for your grandmother as well your mother and yourself. It's not just about the money but money is important too.

Let it go. Even though your grandmother may not have made the right decision by signing everything over to your drug abusing uncle, it was her decision to make. Nothing in your post suggests that she was incompetent to make that decision, so unless you can show that your uncle unduly pressured her into doing so, you wouldn't really have a case.

Don't allow your uncle's and cousin's behavior ruin your memories of your grandmother. It's only her stuff. Try to put this behind you and focus on the ways that you want to remember her. Anon

I'm sorry to hear about your loss. I think the answer depends on why you think your grandmother signed everything over. If you feel she was somehow duped or taken advantage of (esp. duped) it might be good to fight. If you feel she made the decision of her own accord, I would let it go. It was her property to dispose of as she saw fit and if she was of sound mind and not under duress it's really between her and her son. Anon

''I feel it is such an insult to my grandmother that all she and my grandfather worked for is going to be spent by these two drug addicts, on, no doubt, drugs.'' I say, do a little ritual to explain to your grandmother why you won't be fighting for her estate and let it go. Don't spend your lifeblood on litigation with addicts. Get away. Preserve your memory of your grandmother's home as you knew it. Grand-daughter

You may not have any legal leverage but call Len Tillem in Sonoma. He does a radio show and takes e-mail questions. He has a website. His specialty is elder law and I've heard him answer questions like this in two minutes flat. Good luck. anon

A few years ago I was in the opposite situation: my grandmother left everything to my cousin, effectively leaving her two sons and their children, not to mention this cousin's mother and sister, nothing. We suspected it had something to do with taxes - clearly my grandmother wanted to favor her daughter (my cousin's mother)without worrying about inheritance tax. In her will, she only justified this by saying that my dad (her son) didn't need anything and her other son (my uncle) was a drunkard who had already received plenty from her. Somehow she left out my cousin's sister - so we think she may have been coerced but we decided not to contest it - at the time, emotions were high, feelings were raw. It's hard.

It's really hard to deal with something like this, when you can't talk to your grandmother about why this was done. It took me a good 4 years to reconcile myself to her WILL and my uncle committed suicide a year later. So, she was damned if she did and damned if she didn't - leave her estate equally.

Now you're in the situation where someone who doesn't ''deserve'' it, got everything. Unless your grandmother was mentally incompetent, she may have had her reasons. Unlike my grandmother, maybe she wanted to help the weaker son. Maybe it was worth it to her to have your uncle around? Would your mother feel better if he were cut out entirely? Is there any way she can talk to him? I would see if the estate will be probated. Sorry this isn't too helpful, I just know that based on my own prior experience, I decided to have my will clearly outline my wishes and I talk to my kids about it a lot so that there won't be any hurt feelings. anon

There is nothing in your post to suggest that your grandmother was not of sound mind when she left her estate to your uncle. If these were her wishes (regardless of her motivation) then you need to let it go. You may feel angry and sad about this but also know that if your uncle and his daughter are meth addicts that their lives are hell. anon

You should see an experienced elder law attorney ASAP. What your uncle did is elder financial abuse. YOu may or may not decide to fight about it in the end, but you should make an informed decision. A good place to start is to call Legal Assistance for Seniors in Oakland, and they can probably give you a referral. Dont give up the fight without legal advice

Unfair division of mom's estate

Jan 2005

My mom died more than two years ago. My sister was named executor of her estate. She and her husband had been living with mom, taking care of her for four years before her death. During that time they lived completely off her meager retirement income. They paid no rent, uitlities, or other living expenses like food, personal supplies, even gas for their cars. Nada.

After her death they continued to live in the house. It is unclear to myself and my four other sibs that they did not continue to pay their own bills with mom's money. Finally, after much foot dragging, excuses, missed deadlines, mishandling of the sale of the house, etc., they are out.

But, the money situation does not add up. Mom died with about $100,000.00 dollars in her savings account. Sister doled out $10,000.00 to each sibling, for a total of $60,000.00. Leaving $40,000.00. Mom also had just under ''$2000.00 in her checking account.

The house was sold for $501,000.00, as is, with a 6% sales commission. She gave each of us $77,000.00 as our share. But when you subtract 6% from $501,000.00 and divide by 6, you get $78,490.00. Each of us five sibs were shorted $1,490.00 on this. Sister now claims that their is only about $10,000.00 left to be split.

I know there must be some legitimate expenses, like funeral fees, headstone, laywer and accountant fees. Probate cost a little over ''$1,000.00. But from my thinking, I see $42,000.00 from cash and another $7,450.00 from the house for a total of ''$49,450.00. I just don't see how my sister could have legitimately spent almost $40,000.00 to close my mom's estate.

None of the items in the house were sold. A few special things were given to individuals, but the rest she took. What she didn't want, she gave away.

Every time any one of us have even started to approach the subject of the estate in the last two years, my sister has gone berserk with anger, and I mean that literally. She refuses to discuss anything calmy or rationally. She does not stay on topic. She goes off on things that happened to her in her childhood, the numerous wrongs she suffered, the totally thankless job she was left with, having to give up her life for four years for mom, the tremendous amount of work the estate is/was, her husband's health,(which is not good) and on and on.

At this point I only communicate with her via email. I and a few of my sibs have stated to her that we expect her to produce a basic accounting of mom's estate. A list of assets, and list of expenses. She has stated that she will get around to this, but then doesn't find the time. She and her husband are both retired.

Two questions. How can I get my sister to close the estate? I don't want to sue. And if she does provide an accounting, what should I do if the numbers she provides are incorrect? She does not know that I obtained a copy of the probate papers.

I'd like to find a happy ending here. One where mom's estate is divided equally, as according to her will, and where my sibling and I can have the best family relationship possible. anon

OK, I got out my calculator and I have some figures for you. $40,000 plus $1490 x 5 siblings = $47,450 that you think should be accounted for. Your sister took care of your mom for 4 years, so $47,450 divided by 4 years = 11,862.25 per year, $988.52 per month, $32.95 per day (because I think she probably didn't have weekends off), and finally $2.75 per hour ( I gave her a 12 hour day, although I know from experience that it really is a 24 hour a day job). There's your expenses list, and the final result of my equation? You got her cheap. My advice? Put away your calculator and thank your sister. anon

My mother died recently. I am co-executor of my mother's will. I know how difficult these times can be. I'm really sorry for your loss. I hope my thoughts will be helpful to you.

I have found that letting go of my mother's assets, whether they are things or money, is part of the process of letting go of her. I cannot separate my grief over her loss from the difficulty of letting go of her things. I can however acknowledge the process and look carefully at what is really most important to me. For example, I would never purchase a bumpy milk-glass butter dish. But it is the butter dish we used while I as growing up and it is on my counter right now. Every day I look at it and wonder what in the heck I have this thing for. Every day I remember using it as a child and finding it in Mom's house after she died, and I decide to keep it. Some day I will sell it at a garage sale, but not yet. I'm not ready to let it go yet. But someday I will.

We all have issues in our families and in the best of all worlds we hope that in times of great stress we can pull together and build stronger bonds. Based on your description of your situation, it seems clear that you need to be the one to take action to build stronger bonds. Your sister does not appear to be in any condition to do this. Ultimately, you need to decide if your relationship with your sister is more important than your one sixth share of $40,000.

I realize this is a lot of money. But how do you put a value on family? How do you put a value on the 4 years that your sister lived with and took care of your mother? How do you put a value on the work that your sister is doing to administer the estate? Was living expense free during those 4 years adequate compensation for her? What things might she have been doing with her life, if she weren?t living with or taking care of your mother? How would your life have changed if you had lived with and taken care of your mother during those 4 years?

As I see it, your sister has made tremendous sacrifices on behalf of your mother and ultimately you and your siblings. Separate from the issue of money, I would be deeply grateful to my sister for caring for my mother during the last 4 years of her life. I suspect and hope that your sister provided your mother with companionship, love, conversation, assistance with household chores, tracking of medical issues and appointments, and much more. What would you have paid to have someone other than your sister provide that service? Would room and board and maybe $10,000 a year seem fair? If so, then you are even. If not are you willing to sue her for the difference? Assuming you could even win a judgment, would winning a judgment in a law suit like this make you feel better? Would it be worth it? Assuming the money is already spent, which I?m sure it is, are you willing to attach her retirement income to pay back this debt? Would she have to go back to work to pay you back? Would that satisfy you?

Do I think you have the right to an accurate accounting of the estate expenses? Absolutely. Do I think you are going to get them? No. Is it worth pressing for it? Personally I don?t thing so.

I think it would be helpful for you and your sister to sit down and have a conversation about what the last 6 years have been like for both of you, but especially for her. I think your sister?s defenses will come down if she sees you understand her position. I think it would be helpful for you to identify what things you are grateful to her for and express that to her.

Finally and very practically... Would you pay $6,700 (1/6 of $40,000) to have this resolved completely and peacefully right now? If your answer is yes, then forget it. Forgive her. Be grateful that your mother was not alone during the last years of her life. Get on with your life.

Warmest wishes, Karen

There are laws that govern this and your sister does need to report the division of the estate. But ... you did receive $77,000, the amount in dispute is less than a 10th of that amount (probably considerably less than that) .... and your sister did put her life on hold for four years to take care of your mother. If she hadn't you, or another sibling would have had to pay a caretaker, or pay for an assisted care home, which would have been considerably more than your sister siphoned off the estate. Also, you would have had the expense of frequent visits to your mother and of taking days off work. I've let a number of inheritance items go with my siblings (mostly who got what) because it didn't seem like getting what I wanted was worth the fight -- after all relationships are considerably more important than things. anon

I was recently in the position that your sister was in. My siblings ''just couldn't deal'' with our ailing father and so it was all dumped on me - providing emotional and physical support, paying all bills, arranging all appointments, and finally, liquidating his estate.

Believe me, your sister's life was on hold for an excruciatingly long, painful time. You're very lucky to have had someone to deal with this instead of yourself. The numbers you mentioned make perfect sense to me. There are such an overwhelming number of fees and expenses that I'm still unable to completely close the estate after two years - the unexpected bills keep rolling in.

Even if your sister is retired, seeing your mother through her end of life and then dealing with the estate was probably a full- time job for a while. It probably took a heavy toll on her and her husband's life. And it was unpaid and obviously not fully appreciated. It sounds to me like your sister has been more than fair. Even if she had taken the $40,000 for herself, that would come to only $10,000 a year, far less than the cost of a nursing home and far less than she deserved. If there was a funeral, a headstone, an attorney, and an accountant, then it could EASILY have totalled $40,000. If it only cost $20,000, are you worried that she scammed $5,000 for each of the years she carried that burden?

I think that you should be thanking God that someone took care of all of that labor and then handed you a big fat check for doing nothing. My father's estate was also split equally, with me doing all of the work and my greedy, thankless siblings constantly worrying that I would take one dime more than my share. Like you, they can't figure out why they didn't get more money and wring their hands about whether I've taken more than my equal share. If they had participated more they would realize that dying is an expensive business.

My advice is that you take a good long look at how much someone else has done for you and be thankful for what you've been given for nothing. Then tell her that you need to see an accounting of the entire estate for your taxes. That's really all you have a right to ask for. anon

I am sorry to hear of the stress among your siblings regarding the division of your mom's estate. Consider whether the bad vibes are worth it. Having been there, I would rather the inheritance had been given to charity than have the damage it causes in the sibling relationships. Clearly, the death of a parent, can cause problems especially in the area of mistrust and unresolved issues. Do keep in mind that the executor is entitled by law to payment. You did not say whether the five other siblings participated in any way in the care or visitation of your mother or whether you thought your mother was well cared for. Certainly there is untold stress involved in being a caregiver. Yes, you are entitled to an accounting, but bottom line, I hope your mother had the best quality of life on her money and that the six siblings can come to a peaceful resolution supporting and caring for one another. Money isn't everything. Been there.

One way to look at the situation is...what did your sister give up to look after your mother for FOUR years. Would you have done it? Was your mother easy to care for or difficult? It is not easy being a care giver, and perhaps she felt that she deserved more than just an equal splitting of the estate in her own mind. Is there an emotional cost to your point? Is it worth bickering and fighting among family members? Or perhaps, can you ''let it go'' with the understanding that we accept our family members for both better or worse? Anon

Oh Boy, is your situation loaded. The short answer to your question is: leave it alone. Take it from someone who has been there. You seem really wrapped up in the dollar amount and keeping it ''fair.'' I have been in a battle like this with my brother since 1996, the year of my mom's death, and I can tell you, her resistance will not go away. My brother, like your sister, took care of my mother as well, and he was the executor of her estate. Lots of money went missing, and if I chose to insist on an exact accounting, I would be a miserable person. The truth is, it is not about money to your sister. The fact that she brings up her childhood and the years before your mom's death tells you that. She feels owed, and that debt is emotional, which is not going to be satisfied by your asking for an expenses list. The money of your mom's that she used for paying bills, rent, whatever, is a small price to pay, in my opinion, for her help in taking care of your mom. In truth, you got her cheap. Try paying for long-term in-home care. Besides, it's not like you didn't get any money! If you're looking for everything to be split exactly 4 or 5 ways or whatever the split is supposed to be, it's not going to happen. Please please please don't sue your sister. Is that small amount of money really worth it? My advice is to readjust your thinking and not get locked in a battle with your sister. No matter the outcome, you will lose. Think instead about the sacrifice your sister made and how lucky your mom was to be able to stay at home and not end up in a hospital. How much does that cost? I think it costs just about as much as you think is owed to you and your other siblings, plus a whole lot more. anon

I normally never give advice if it is simply my opinion, but I felt compelled to respond to your advice request.

If the information you stated is correct, I think you seriously need to do a reality check!

First off you make it sound like your mom is living a ''meager'' existence, yet she maintained a healthy savings & checking account, and obviously owned a home with good value.

Your sister and brother-in-law took care of your mother for 4 years. Do you have any idea the amount of work and patience it takes to care for an elderly loved one for that length of time. Your sister could have place your mother in a home, in which case (depending upon the state) all of her assets would have been used to pay for her care. You and your other siblings would have received nothing at the passing of your mother.

The monies unaccounted for is small change compared to the 4 years your sister dedicated to your mother. Your sister has every right to become angry when approached by your demands for an accurate accounting. If I was your sister, I'd give you an accurate accounting and then I'd charge you and your sibs for the 4 years I spent taking care of mom.

We have an elderly parent (85)living alone in Michigan, she doesn't want to leave her home and in someways is still very capable. It costs us over $2,000 a month to have someone come in and provide her with simple assistance on a daily basis. I'd be only too thrilled if my sister-in-law gave up her life for 4 years to go take care of mom!

You really need to examine the way in which you are viewing your sister, you should be thanking her instead of asking her to be accountable! Kate

I would really recommend that you let the money go and focus on your relationship with your sister. You've already received close to $90,000 and you are talking about a maximum of about $5,000 more that you could possibly get, if all the money is still there which it very well might not be. Is the fight to get that last bit of money worth your relationship with your sister? While what you are asking for sounds very reasonable, on the other hand there are clearly more than strictly financial issues involved. Caring for your mother was obviously very difficult, and even if you feel that your sister was adequately compensated by having her living expenses taken care of, she may feel she is still owed for that and possibly other issues before that. If you want to maintain a relationship with her, I think you will have to try to see things from her perspective or at least let her know that you are trying to do so. I hope you are able to reconcile and support each other in this difficult time for you both. Wishing you all the best

If your top priority is to have a good relationship with your sister again, then you need to drop it. I sounds like you're really not taking into consideration what your sister went through the last 4 years. Taking care of an aging/dying parent has to be one of the most difficult and emotionally jobs imaginable. Doesn't your sister deserve some compensation for this (both financial and emotional)? Plus, if you had paid for a full-time live-in nurse for four years (or a nursing home), the costs would have been well over $40,000. I daresay there wouldn't have been a penny left in your mothers estate.

My husband's family just went through a similar experience after their mother died. And now they don't talk to their eldest sister. It's almost as if she and her two kids don't exist anymore, and I find that sad. Yeah, she stole some stuff from the estate, even stole some of the mother's things out of her sister's purse when they were divvying up the goods. Her rationale was similar, she had gotten hit by a car as a child, and her mother took the entire settlement ($40,000) and spent it. To top it off she had a horrible relationship with her mother, and just before she died she altered her will so that my sister-in-law would only get $1,000. My sister-in-law felt, well here I am divorced and broke, her mother was awful to her and she was ''entitled''.

In addition, I know it does cost a lot to close an estate. Don't forget about taxes that must be paid, the costs of burial, etc. And it is a lot of work. My brother-in-law worked for one year to tie up all the loose ends, and I think legally they are allowed compensation for dealing with the details.

I just wonder if it's worth it to lose a sister over this. It's just money. And not even that much money. I guess since they have 8 kids total in the family they figured they could afford to lose one sister. But I think it is horribly sad, and I actually miss my sister-in-law who is my daughter's godmother. anon

I would address the issues your sister is concerned about (financial and others) and say how important it is to you to consider them as well as your needs and those of all sibs. Offer to help her do the accounting. If it does not work out amongst the 6 of you, perhaps mediation can help. A neutral common friend or relative can help as a mediator (I have played the role in my family) or you can get a professional mediator. Good luck! Anon

Based on the numbers, it sounds like after getting nearly $90K from your mothers estate you are now questioning a sum of less than $10K in addition to what you've recieved. Before pinning your sister down on this, maybe you could consider the following.

You may feel your sister lived at her mothers house for four years ''rent free''. Consider that your sister basically gave up 4 years of her life to provide care for your mom. That care allowed your Mom to live in her home with family, instead of paid caregivers.

Your sisters sacrifice saved your mother a great deal of money, allowed another 4 years appreciation on her home, and probably gave her great comfort. These things benefitted you, by giving you piece of mind knowing your mom was safe and loved, and freed you up to live your life.

It also benefitted you, as home prices increased a great deal over the last 6 years. Many seniors sell their home when their health declines, then use the cash to pay for assisted living with paid caregivers. This can easily run thousands per month over the course of 4 years, her assets would be sustantially less than they were when she died, particularly if she had sold her home prior to prices rising as they have and used the cash to pay for senior care.

The way your mother and sister handled it was a win-win, her assets (home and savings) were protected and she was in the care of people who loved her.

Unless your sister has a pattern of freeloading, malicious behavior, or if you have proof she squandered away your moms money, I would extend gratitude, not suspiscon and give her the benefit of the doubt. Whether or not you realize it, she made a huge sacrifice to help the family, and deserves your respect. Trying to see both sides

Mediation may be an answer; you get professional help without going to court. For mediation programs in the area, go to:

I also have another reaction which you may not want to hear. Why not let it go? It looks like you all got a lot of money, and without needing to help at all. How much is enough? And if you do get more, how about sending it to help the tsunami victims? Better yet, since all of you are getting quite a chunk of change, maybe you can reduce your anger and feel good by collectively sending a significant gift to Asia - people who are suffering. After all, your affluence and their poverty is merely an accident of birth. I'm quite serious; it could be a beautiful healing act for your family, and you did say that you also value good family relationships. They are indeed worth more than gold. (including our human family :-) For information and ways to make donations, go to: Wishing you well

How do I find out if I'm mentioned in my father's will?

Feb 2004

If you're mentioned in someone's will, how do you find out about it? My father died a few weeks ago. He's been married to his second wife for over 25 years. While we've maintained a good relationship with our father, my brothers and I have always had issues with his wife. We're assuming that if there is a will, she gets everything (they never had kids and she has no children). BUT if he was thinking of us, how long would it take for us to be contacted? (The obvious thing would be to ask his wife, but for many PAINFUL reasons we can't bring ourselves to!) Just wondering

You can ask your question on the estates message board of If your father had a will it should be probated and at that time you will probably get a notice. If your father had a living trust and the amount of his probate estate is below certain thresholds then you probably will not get notice from the probate court but you should get notice from the successor trustee of the trust. California has certain requirements for notification of legal heirs, those that would inherit if there was no will. What does this mean for you? Unless you want to discuss this with your step-mother you will have to wait and see if you get a notice. Alternatively, you (as an interested party) could bring a probate action for your father's estate. This will cost you some attorney's fees and likely could poison your tenous relationship with your step-mother. To fully understand this course of action consult an attorney. Good luck! anon

How to fairly divide up my grandmother's possessions

May 2003

I am one of four siblings and my mother has one sister. My 101 year old grandmother is going to die soon and her house is full of many valuable antiques, large and small. My aunt who is childless, is getting half of the house's contents and the rest will be divided among the four adult children (myself included). My aunt is the executor of the estate and has asked us to turn in a list of what we want from the house with the understanding that our request of the possessions in the house should not exceed one eighth of the total. She is a curmudgeon (very interested in controlling things), but ethical and is worried she will get enough out of the estate to retire on. There is an old appraisal of the assets of the estate, but she does not want us to see it as she wants us to decide based on what we can use and like, not on the financial value. She is determined, we take things for our own use, not for resale. She has spent the last 20 years looking after our grandmother while working full time. The estate is the house (easy to divide the proceeds) and the house's contents. One of the problems is that one child wants things that far exceed one eighth, one wants small very valuable things only and two children want furniture. There are also many things of interest in the house that are not valuable. I have suggested that we take turns, my aunt picks something then one of the grandchildren choose. The grandchildren decide their order by drawing straws. I also suggested we make an A list of extremely valuable things and a B list and choose from these lists according to our portion of the estate and the four of us negotiate among ourselves what we wanted. Both of these ideas were rejected, any suggestions on how to divide this estate in way that we all end up still speaking to each other when it is over and we have a reasonably fair distribution of the assets? Anonymous

Perhaps you can find a useful variation on something that worked well in my family. When my grandfather died there were just some small possessions for my mother & her sister to divide up. We laid out the stuff. I suggested that first one make a pile of what she wanted and another pile of what she didn't. Then the other sister could take anything from the ''don't want'' pile. The 2nd sister then removed anything from the first sister's ''want'' pile that she (second sister) didn't want and those things could go automotically to sister 1. That left a much smaller pile of items that both wanted, which was easier to cope with. mary

You say the deal is that your aunt gets half, and the remaining half is divided among you and your siblings. The problem seems to be that your aunt wants to control not only what half she gets, but what happens to the other half. Have her choose first what she wants to make up her half, and, assuming you four are OK with that, the four of you should be able to decide amongst yourselves who gets what from the remaining half - she shouldn't be able to control how that allocation happens. Then you can proceed with your eminently sensible plan of taking turns - each person chooses one item in turn until everything is gone. Or, hire a mediator. Split 5 ways, it should not be terribly expensive. Fran

This is a very loaded issue. Your aunt, no matter how curmudgeonly or controlling she is, should really get to run the show here. She is losing a parent...I don't care what anyone says, the grandchildren--and even more so since you are adults--don't feel the emotional impact of loss as dramatically as the child--and probably even more so in your aunt's case since she has been your grandmother's caregiver. What does your mother say about it? She should be the one to voice an opinion to her sister/your aunt here if she feels strongly about these issues. I think your aunt has shown a certain level of grace in asking you to submit lists. It really comes down to being graceful and supportive of your aunt. She is in for A LOT of work as the executor of the estate as well as coping with her grief. She has probably sacrificed a lot in her life in order to take care of your grandmother. Hopefully you, your siblings, and your mother have lent a hand and support to her throughout...being the sole caregiver for an elderly parent is very draining. Submit your lists and then accept what is given to you with gratitude and grace. (you are very lucky to get proceeds from the house!) If you don't get the items you are coveting, so be it ... move on with your life and hold dear to your grandmother's memory. You can choose not to let these issues cause division in your family by simply accepting what your aunt gives you with dignity. Holding onto your anger about what you didn't get is ultimately very destructive. anon

When my grandmother died, we had a somewhat similar situation. The estate went 50/50 to my aunt (who has two children) and my father (who has four children). My aunt was also the executor, and my father the more involved shild in final years' caregiving.

It was not easy, because you are dividing up things that bring back memories as well as things that have value. Also, since there were unequal numbers of grandkids in the two families, some of my siblings complained that my aunt got ''more'' than my dad. Nevertheless, we managed to get through it, and here are some things that helped.

My aunt did do an appraisal--it's a must for taxes, and it took some of the emotion OUT of the divide. My aunt and my father then split the things as close to 50/50 as possible. If any of the grandkids had come in with requests (there was a painting I used to dream about and wanted very much), that was taken into account. After the estate was divided thus, my siblings and I gathered at our parents house, and drew straws as to picking order. Then we spent a very surreal day splitting the stuff up. In many ways, we chose where we were in our lives; i had just bought a house, so I needed furnature. My brother had just gotten married, and his new wife chose lots of silver table-top stuff. My sister was an artist, so got lots of the good art.

In your case, I'd suggest that your aunt and your mother do the first round picks, with your special requests in mind, but mostly on their own according to value. Then you and your siblings will have a chance. In any case, perhaps you could put all of it aside for a little while until your grandmother has passed and then for a little while longer until you have a chance to grieve a little. Carolyn