The Moneyist: ‘I cut his hair because he won’t pay for a haircut’: I’m 76. My multimillionaire husband is 90. I’ve looked after him for 41 years, but he won’t help my son

United States

Dear Quentin,

My husband and I are both on our second marriage, and we have been married for 41 years. He has 3 sons from his previous marriage, and I have a son and a daughter. He inherited the property where we built our house 40 years ago. He set up a Charitable Remainder Trust and currently has $ 6 million in it.

He is in the process of selling the additional 50 acres for about $ 2 million, which he intends to put in the trust. He has set it up for our children and me to get a percentage after he dies. He is 90 years old, and is in excellent health. I am 76, and I am having some health problems. I think that he will outlive me.

The problem is that I need some of the money now. My son (his stepson) was in a car wreck and needs help. He has had 7 surgeries over the past two years, and is going to have a hip replacement this week. When that heals, he has to have a shoulder replacement.

‘His sons won’t let him live with them. They would put him in a nursing home.’

His wife had brain surgery a couple of years ago to stop her epileptic seizures, but she has lost her short-term memory. She also started having seizures again, and her doctor told her she could never go back to work as a registered nurse. They are clearly in need of financial help.

My husband has helped them this past year, but he resents it, and does not continue to help them. I called a divorce attorney about possibly taking him to court to dissolve our marriage, and he said that I would be entitled to half of my husband’s assets. However, I’m not even on the deed of our house.

I would not be able to live with him, even if I just filed for separate maintenance. He’s hard enough to live with to begin with, but this will break my heart. I have taken care of him for 41 years. He just gives me barely enough to pay our bills. I cut his hair because he won’t pay for a haircut.

His sons won’t let him live with them. They would put him in a nursing home, but he’s too healthy to end up in a nursing home, and has all of his mental faculties. I don’t know what to do and would like your advice. I bet that you have never heard from anyone who has too much money.

Wife & Mother

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Dear Wife,

The issue with your son seems like the proverbial last straw. My suspicion is there have been many such straws over the years, both big and small, that were contenders for the last straw, but they were superceded by another straw, and another.

It’s not just about the money. He is under no obligation to pay for your son, but you clearly see this as an act of disrespect toward you and your own family, given that they have been dealing with the aftermath of a car accident.

Why cut his hair when you feel such resentment for him? Why have you remained married? Because you love each other and/or there is a power imbalance in your relationship, and a significant financial disparity. You must be equals. Otherwise, there is a price on every act of kindness.

After 41 years there is also a lot of community property. It does, however, remain beyond your reach.

So what now? Your social contract may already been broken, even if your marriage contract has not. The stress you feel is, perhaps, the work you put into acting like the foundation of your marriage is solid when it is not. State your needs and what you require within this marriage to make it work.

In fairness to your husband, he has already helped your son out. He could feel used and put upon. Explain to him that you are partners in this marriage, and you have right to make your own decisions about money, and you need to more autonomy over your joint finances.

There is a trade-off: Endure the current unpleasantness and feeling of powerlessness OR stand up to your husband with all the unpleasantness that entails. If you opt for legal action and file for a legal separation, it should not come as a surprise, and you should both know the reasons why.

Boyd Law, a Californian law firm, offers some cautionary and helpful words for people in your situation. “After a party legally separates, they are no longer a ‘community.’ From this point on, each party’s accumulated assets and debts are his/her own, and not shared properties.”

You both appear to be acting within the bounds of civility and proprietary, but there is a coercive element to this arrangement.

“To protect your assets during a legal separation and/or divorce, make the date of separation clear between you and your ex-spouse,” it says. “Making the date of separation apparent while still living together can be tricky. You will need evidence of your separation that you can show to the court.”

Boyd Law says the clearer you make this date, the better. “To accomplish this, start living as separately as possible under the same roof. Live in different rooms, don’t prepare each other’s meals or do each other’s laundry, stop wearing wedding rings, and use separate bank accounts.”

There are advantages to separating your financial lives without divorcing, whether or not you are still living under the same roof. You share expenses and still benefit from shared medical insurance, for instance. Ultimately, it is a decision only you can make. It’s your life, your choice.

Bottom line: One person in a marriage should not hold all the cards.

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