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Feb. 21, 2021, 8:47 p.m. EST

My daughter-in-law will only have a second child by surrogacy — and wants to use $200K of my son’s inheritance to pay for it

‘He has already dipped into capital by covering his wife’s $250,000 in college and credit-card debt before they were even married — a pretty heroic rescue!’

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By Quentin Fottrell, MarketWatch

Dear Quentin,

My son, 35, has been married for three years and has one child. He recently came to me with what I consider to be a stunningly unusual dilemma.  

He wanted my counsel on the idea of a second child, something he desires greatly  He was married in 2017, and the first child was born in 2019.

It turns out that his wife, 35, is very reluctant — not to have another child, as she claims, but to bear another child. She says she would agree to surrogacy at a cost exceeding $200,000. She claims this is her right, as a feminist, and that she is entitled to control what happens with her body.

At this point, I was at a total loss. It’s something I can’t even imagine physically, emotionally, socially, or financially.  

This does NOT seem to be a good use of money for a healthy couple who have not had trouble conceiving.

This does NOT seem to be a good use of money for a healthy couple who have not had trouble conceiving, and seems to indicate a significant lack of judgment and sensitivity.

My son inherited a decent amount of money at 30 (about $1 million), an amount that once might have sounded like a lot, but what is now basically the ability to purchase a house and fund education for children.

In our family, we have always adhered as closely as possible to the rule “never dip into capital.”

Yet he has already dipped into capital by covering his wife’s $250,000 in college and credit-card debt before they were even married — a pretty heroic rescue!  

After the fact, I was shocked to learn that she had received a full scholarship to a perfectly good university (tuition, room and board), but turned it down in favor of NYU, with zero financial aid. She had no particular plan for repaying this debt — in fact, her initial ambition following college was to be a yoga instructor.

Not surprisingly, that did not pan out terribly well. They now live near San Francisco, where both are employed in tech-ish jobs — my son is a data scientist, and my daughter-in-law has a job involving social media.  

Their compensation is decent — hers possibly much as $100,000, his maybe $130,000 — but not spectacular, certainly not in expensive northern California. I’m fairly sure my son’s job (at an established company) has a better future than hers (at a “startup” that is teetering due to COVID-19).

On top of this, my daughter-in-law’s parents are indigent, unemployable and completely dependent upon them.

On top of this, my daughter-in-law’s parents are indigent, unemployable and completely dependent upon them. As of now, they are living with them and providing daily child care for their daughter — better than paying both a nanny and the parents’ expenses in a separate domicile, but a tough situation in a small apartment. The parents are only in their late 50s.

But wait, there’s more. My daughter-in-law is objecting to my son’s desire to obtain a postnuptial agreement, designed to segregate what is left of his inheritance from marital assets; in fact, she has indicated that she will only feel they are “true partners” if he allows her to share equally in his assets.

So far, my son has resisted, and seems determined to hold the line on this; she has reluctantly agreed, but has yet to see a lawyer. I’m not optimistic that a lawyer will be helpful in this case. But my understanding is that in California, assets brought into a marriage are excluded in a divorce settlement, particularly in a short-term marriage.

Finally, she is very determined to buy an expensive house, which to me seems like an end run around the postnup, as once that capital goes into a home purchase, it becomes a “marital asset.”

Despite this history, which makes her sound like an unrelenting gold digger, she is a nice person who loves and cares for her daughter and, I hope, my son. She just seems to have an astonishingly casual attitude toward money — if it’s there, spend it! (Or, in the case of college, even if it’s not there.)

I realize that there are all kinds of problems here, not just the cockamamie surrogacy one, but I would appreciate your perspective and wisdom on the tricky financial intricacies.


Concerned Mother-in-Law

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

Dear Concerned,

The gods will judge us for the choices we make. They will also judge us for judging others for the choices they make. The best way forward is to think carefully about the former, and do as little as possible of the latter.

With that in mind, let’s assume that her parents are good people, and that your son and daughter-in-law are happy to help her parents, unless we have any other reason to suspect otherwise. Child care can cost up to $22,000 a year in San Francisco, so it’s also a blessing to have them to help take care of their child while they are at work. Multigenerational households are not unusual in many cultures. Working at a startup can be lucrative, and having studied at a prestigious university can open doors, whether it’s through smoke and mirrors or not.

I agree with the first part of your daughter-in-law’s position. It’s her body and her choice. Whether or not she considers herself a feminist, she and she alone gets to choose whether or not she wants to bear another child. All people should have agency over their own bodies, despite constant interference in this most basic of civil rights. One thing I know for sure: Childbirth and reproductive rights and finances are not two separate issues that exist in isolation of each other. They are not. The cost of surrogacy can range from $90,000 to $130,000 in California, and much less in other states.

If your worst fears are realized about their gulf in priorities, the bounds of this marriage will be tested to breaking point.

And so to your son. He too has a choice to make on how to spend his inheritance, or not. I understand that his wife may wish to explore the financial requirements of surrogacy, but inheritance is deemed separate rather than marital property for a reason. This is money that the bequeather wished your son to have and use as he sees fit. If his inheritance is seen as a jar on the mantel that can be dipped into at will, it will soon fritter away to nothing. If your daughter-in-law’s financial requests are part of a larger pattern, of course it worries me that your son’s inheritance may drained at the request.

Ultimately, it’s a much bigger conversation than surrogacy or even your daughter-in-law’s student debt. And that too is where my concern lies. Your daughter-in-law must weigh up the pros and cons of having a child by surrogacy, assuming your son agrees to pay for it, with the pros and cons of having another child at all. Your son must balance his desire for a second child with the cost of surrogacy. We can’t answer those questions for them. If your worst fears are realized about their gulf in priorities, the bounds of this marriage will be tested to the breaking point.

Maintaining his $1 million as separate property, given the highly emotive issue they are grappling with, seems like a wise and fair move to me. Your son may say, “Your body, your choice. My inheritance, my choice.” Sometimes, such directness and bluntness is required. It’s not a pretty or easy conversation, whatever way you decide to embark upon it. But it’s better that they both draw lines in the sand now — without apology — on how far they are willing to compromise, and what their expectations and plans are for how they see their family and finances moving forward.

Delaying such conversations rarely leads to a better result.

<STRONG> <STRONG>The Moneyist:</STRONG> <CROSSREF GUID="{A8F24C46-6435-11EB-A858-90F87E9C06AE}" DOCTYPEID="" FILE-NAME="" ENCODING-DATE="">When my parents died, my sisters and I split their estate. I chose a painting that may be worth $50,000. Should I tell them? </CROSSREF> </STRONG>

<STRONG>Hello there, MarketWatchers. Check out <INTERNET URL="https://www.facebook.com/groups/moneyist/" LOCATION="EXTERNAL">the Moneyist private Facebook</INTERNET><PHRASE TYPE="COMPANY" SIGNIFICANCE="PASSING-MENTION"><SYMBOL COUNTRY="US" TICKER="FB"></SYMBOL></PHRASE> group where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.</STRONG>

Quentin Fottrell is MarketWatch's personal-finance editor and The Moneyist columnist for MarketWatch. You can follow him on Twitter @quantanamo.

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