The Moneyist: ‘I am held hostage in my own home’: My husband’s son lives with us. He is physically abusive and menacing

United States

Dear Moneyist,

I am married, but my home is in my name only. When I bought it in 2010, I was the only one eligible to apply for a mortgage because my husband was working a temporary job, having been laid off in the recession.

My previous home, which I bought when I was single, had substantial equity in it. But I wasn’t able to sell it right away, due to needed repairs and no funds to get them done while my husband was working sporadically. I subsequently took a loan out of my retirement fund to pay for the repairs.

When the old home sold, the money was used to refinance and pay down the current house’s mortgage, again in my name only. I am the one who pays for the home mortgage. (We live in Georgia.)

‘I am the one who pays for the home mortgage.’

My husband is 62 and I am 61. We both have chronic health conditions, though I’ve had more serious hospitalizations, including a pulmonary embolism, pneumonia, cerebral spinal fluid leak, etc.

My husband’s son is almost 29 and still lives with us. He does not pay rent nor contribute much toward household chores, and is a most aggravating total slob, as well as disrespectful, rude, physically and mentally abusive and menacing to me in particular.

Sorry, but that is the truth of the matter. I feel I am held hostage in my own home, which he treats like a garbage dump. Because my stepson has mental-health issues, my husband thinks we cannot kick him out of the house until he is able to sustain himself.

I am concerned my husband will outlive me, and while I have no problem with my husband receiving the house if I die first, I am adamantly opposed to my stepson ultimately inheriting my home under any circumstances.

How can I structure my will to enforce my wishes regarding my home to prevent it from being inherited by my stepson?


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Dear Trapped,

Let’s talk about the here and now before we talk about what happens after you’re gone.

You are in a House of Danger and surrounded by Wall of Trauma. You need a team to deal with the effects of living with a man who is a bully and a perpetrator of elder abuse, and then you can deal with your and his living situation. Once you start to break down the walls of your own fear and abuse with the help of a lawyer, financial planner, doctors and therapist, you will be able to deal with the brick-and-mortar problem of what happens to your home if you predecease your husband.

But why put all your focus on ensuring that this man does not inherit your home? I agree that you should do everything in your power to make that happen, but you could have another 10 or 20 or more years left, so why suffer because your husband is unable or unwilling to kick him out? You do not have to live with abuse. There is no excuse for abuse. It is time to end your stepson’s rent-free rule of terror in your home. You have a right to live safely and happily.

What happens to your home after you’re gone is an important consideration for you. However, given what you have revealed in you letter, it should be way down on you list of priorities.

— The Moneyist

Georgia is an equitable distribution state. For instance, “both spouses generally have some property ownership despite not being named on the deed,” according to Abbott & Abbott, a law firm with offices in Marietta and Canton, Ga. Talk to an estate-planning lawyer about whether or not you can leave your husband a life estate (he lives there after you die, but does not own the home), given that you paid off a home you brought into this marriage and used the proceeds to buy a new one.

Contact Georgia Adult Protective Services to report abuse, and find an organization that can help you navigate the last years of your life so they are free from harassment and abuse. Talk to a lawyer, financial planner, therapist, doctor and even the police if you have to. You didn’t sign up for this when you married and the price you paid should not have been a peaceful life. If your husband stands by and allows this to happen, he is helping to facilitate your stepson’s abusive behavior.

Neither your husband or stepson are unlikely to change. But you can take actions to ensure that you wake up in the morning and go to sleep at night feeling safe in your own home. What happens to your home after you’re gone is an important consideration for you. However, given what you have revealed in your letter, it should be way down on your list of priorities. I believe you can do it — and, with the right amount of outside support, I feel confident that you will begin to believe that too.

Approximately one in four people aged 65 years old will live beyond 90, and one out of 10 will live past 95, according to the Social Security Administration; more than half of those who reach the age of 65 will require some form of long-term care. You don’t want to be in a position where both your health and the health of your husband have declined to such a degree that you are dependent and at the mercy of your stepson. Unless you force your stepson to move out, he will never leave.

The time for action is now.

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