My father is in his mid-80s and my mother died over a decade ago. He started dating a woman his age 10 years ago who later moved in with him even though they are not married. She has a house nearby, but his home is more convenient because everything is on one floor and he has paid for everything.
Earlier this year, his health problems made it necessary to move to a nursing home. This woman has now made a deal with my father that she can stay in his house after his death. Apparently there are terms in his attorney’s contract that she doesn’t agree to, but as far as I know Dad will just give in to her demands.
One of the requirements prevents her clumsy grandson, who has a history of theft and substance abuse, from spending time in Dad’s house. Papa has extensive collections of antiques and collectibles that could easily disappear. Dad also told me and my siblings that if someone becomes contentious, he will simply remove them from the will.
We are concerned that this arrangement will really complicate all of our lives when Dad dies. He didn’t think of possibilities, like what if she meets someone else and that person moves in?
I appreciate that his money is his money, but we were really excited about this extended living. Communication has never been good in our family. It feels like she’s had a financial interest in him all along and now we’re sticking with her even after he dies. Do you have any advice on how to think about, protect family wealth, and move forward?
– Troubled daughter
Is your main concern that your father’s last wishes are not carried out? Or are you more concerned about having to deal with daddy’s girlfriend when he’s gone? The way you arranged things makes it sound like the latter.
Your father’s girlfriend is in her 80s. She has lived in his house for several years. I think your father is sensible. You may not like her, but she has been an important part of his life for a decade. It is understandable that when he dies he doesn’t want to uproot her.
That is, if you haven’t shared your concerns with your father, you have to – with a sure instinct. This conversation must be about your father and how you can best grant his wishes. (Repeat, his Wishes.) Don’t accuse his girlfriend of being after his money. Don’t suggest that she is willing to team up with someone else once they die. Instead, you could ask your dad how he would feel if his girlfriend had a different relationship, knowing that that person could stay home. Just because he hasn’t shared his thoughts and feelings with you doesn’t necessarily mean he hasn’t thought them through or discussed them with his lawyer.
It’s also good practice to make sure it’s clear who is responsible for house-related expenses while your father’s girlfriend still lives there. It sounds like your father moved the house into a living good. It is a common estate planning tool when someone, after their death, wants to have someone else live in their home without leaving it to them. With these agreements, the tenant usually bears these costs.
As for your father’s collectibles and antiques, there is no reason these items should be left at home. He could leave it to you, your siblings, or someone else through his will or trusteeship. Remember that collectibles are often much more valuable to the collector than they are on the market. If you want a certain item, simply asking your dad for it and explaining why you love him can be much more effective than bothering him about his girlfriend’s dead grandson.
However, I suspect that your father is fully aware of your concerns. Communication is not just about making yourself heard. It takes listening even if you don’t like the answers.
There are many situations in which family members have good cause to worry that an older loved one is being manipulated by a significant other. This doesn’t seem to be one of those times. Your father sounds like he’s still sane and wants to take care of his longtime companion after he’s gone. He may have a few more details to work out, but luckily he has a lawyer.
Given your father’s age and health problems, he may not have much time left. Please heed his warning and don’t make this a point of dispute. He deserves peace, not an argument.
Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].