I’m getting ready to be married next year. My fiancé, 32, and I, 35, have been together five years and are both aware of each other’s financials (debt, savings, everything). We also talk openly about how we want to save and are taking steps to be able to live the life we want to in the future — we always “pay ourselves” first and don’t spend frivolously. We are not first-class people by any means, but we make a happy living. We were planning to combine financial assets/accounts once we marry.
We understand we are being hard and some might view it as selfish, but we’re also trying to protect ourselves from someone who only seems to see his son as an ATM.
My concern relates to his father and my future father-in-law. They have never been close and my fiancé is an only child. His father is depressed and is currently being forced to retire several years early. His father has never been good with money and has no savings. The father has always asked family, and his son — my fiancé — for loans. My fiancé has, at times, purchased groceries for his father and taken days off to make sure his father gets proper medical care, but never written any type of check or loan for his dad.
My future father-in-law has recently asked my fiancé for money so he can pay his rent: My fiancé said no. That was hard as it was for him — he was in tears. We live in Ohio and his father lives in Kentucky.
My question is: How do we best protect our combined financial assets to make it so that we are not, in any way, responsible for his father’s lack of planning and/or bankruptcy? We would be happy to help his father if he was a willing participant in saving, repayment or thankfulness, but he is not — and always asking for more help. Their relationship has always been strained because of these types of requests.
My fiancé and I have worked hard and plan on buying a home soon and having children. We do not want to forgo our hard-fought savings for someone who doesn’t know how to handle or save money. We understand we are being hard and some might view it as selfish, but we’re also trying to protect ourselves from someone who only seems to see his son as an ATM.
I wish he was closer to his father and I push for them to build a relationship, but then I see this and I know why my fiancé is closed off to his dad.
How do we financially protect ourselves?
Concerned in the Ohio Valley
You’re doing the right thing by trying to help your future father-in-law while also trying to help him help himself. He needs a team of social workers, doctors, financial planners (if you can afford them) and/or the local consumer credit counseling bureau to help him stave off bankruptcy. You can do a lot to help him by offering him some tough love: You want to help him, but you can’t afford to bail him out, especially as you are saving for a house and plan on having a family.
You can propose an intervention of sorts by trying to get ahead of any future bad financial decisions. Write out a list of his income and expenditures, add it to a Google GOOG, +3.18% Document (if he has a computer) so you can all see it. People overspend for many reasons: loneliness, unhappiness, fear and/or a lack of financial education. He may have other addiction-related problems and/or mental health issues that you may not be aware of, given that he lives in one state and you live in another.
To answer your question: Some 28 U.S. states have so-called filial responsibility laws, which can be traced back to colonial times and (in theory) impose a duty on adult children to support their impoverished parents. Those states include both Ohio and Kentucky. Except for rare cases, these laws are rarely enforced. There have been some attempts to enforce them in Pennsylvania and North Dakota.
Otherwise, it’s important to draw boundaries to protect your own assets. Don’t co-sign on loans or guarantee any debt. And if you help your fiancé’s father with his bank accounts, make sure you are not a co-owner or a co-signer — that makes you liable for any debts. The AARP has a set of guidelines on caring for an elderly parent, which gives a list of resources to help you navigate Medicaid and Medicare.
Ultimately, the fact that you are willing to have these difficult discussions now bodes well for you and your fiancé. These are hard issues to navigate and the Moneyist salutes you both.
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