By Quentin Fottrell, MarketWatch
My wife’s mother is 90 and in poor health. She requires 24/7 assistance. Her husband passed away about 20 years ago. She is still a wonderfully positive person, but the reality is that time is catching up to her.
The oldest son, 60, still lives at home. He recently retired from his job as a physical trainer at a local community college and has limited income, which I surmise is a small pension supplemented with Social Security.
For years, this living arrangement seemed strange to the four other siblings, but it became a blessing in disguise when their mother had a stroke 15 months ago. He provides daily care for her with the assistance of daytime care assistants, as well as my wife, who helps out three days a week.
‘He recently retired from his job as a physical trainer at a local community college and has limited income.’
Of the other four siblings, three are well-educated, successful professionals in their last decade of working careers, and one is the housewife of a retired successful professional. I believe all, except the son who lives at home, have planned very well for their retirements.
That’s not to say they wouldn’t want their fair share. My wife and I do not need any inheritance to enhance our retirements, and I will respect my mother-in-law’s decision without question.
My father-in-law left investments that now exceed $1 million, while the home is estimated to be worth around $600,000. The will divides all assets equally among siblings. The son who lives at home has slipped into the mind set that the contents of the home are his.
You can imagine some of the questions swirling among some of the siblings.
I went through the loss of my own mother. I was the trustee of her estate, and there was significant inequality in distribution. I know it can be stressful and divisive among siblings to deal with this subject.
The questions on the minds of the siblings are: Should they let him have the house or rent it? Should they make him pay for the house? What’s the right thing to do?
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<STRONG> <INTERNET URL="https://twitter.com/Quantanamo" LOCATION="EXTERNAL" /> </STRONG> Dear Brother-in-Law,
I can imagine the questions circulating from house to house. But what they want, and what they think should happen, and what they think of their brother living at home is largely irrelevant.
Even if she were your mother rather than your mother-in-law, I would say the same thing: Of course, accept her decision. It’s her house, they are her possessions and it’s her money. No one — not even the son who lives at home — is entitled to it. Anything she decides to leave her family as an inheritance should be seen as a gift and, yes, the respective fortunes and living situations of her children may very likely be taken into account.
‘I suspect that there were many other times it was helpful for him to be there, at a time when none of his siblings had reason to notice.’
There is one area where she may need help: Making sure that she does not leave a mess behind where the siblings are forced to have a summit to decide what to do about their less-wealthy sibling who has lived in the family home all his life. He may or may not have the funds to buy his own home with his share of the inheritance. Alternatively, your mother-in-law could decide to leave him slightly more than his siblings to help him do this.
There are so many moving parts, and each family member will no doubt wonder how their mother’s will affects their own fortunes. They have, as you say, seen firsthand the advantage of having a sibling living at home in adulthood, and have watched him step up and help his mother after her stroke. But I suspect that there were many other times it was helpful for him to be there, at a time when none of his siblings had reason to notice.
There is no right or wrong answer. He appears to be the only financially vulnerable member of the family. All of this could and/or should be taken into account. Given that it has been his home and he has no other home, a life estate is one option. That way, the grandchildren can all benefit from the inheritance at a future date. Alternatively, assess the value of the entire estate and what it would take for him to have a smaller home.
The most important thing is to have a plan, and to not leave your brother-in-law homeless. Those two priorities should be mutually compatible.
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