The Moneyist: My stepson bought a home with his now ex-girlfriend. It doubled in value to $400K. She is willing to accept $50K. Should I intervene?

United States

Dear Quentin,

My husband’s son has been living with his girlfriend for 10 years. They bought a house with land in a very popular state about five years ago. They are now breaking up. It is a sad, messy, situation. His girlfriend’s mental state is fragile — she is not taking care of herself mentally, physically or financially.  

The property is now worth over twice what they paid for it — around $ 400,000. Her name is on the mortgage, his name is on the deed. His plan is to buy her out for $ 50,000, and keep the place. He could then turn around and sell it and profit nicely. I have suggested twice that she get legal help but she refuses.  

I think she is hoping they will “work things out” and get back together. Her “doormat” mantra is, “I just want to make him happy.” Fifty-thousand dollars does not seem kind or fair. I can’t stand to see him take advantage of her. What would you say to her? What financial advice would you give? Or perhaps I’m the one who needs advice to butt out because it’s a fair deal?

Stepmother Standing By

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Dear Stepmother,

If her name is on the mortgage, but not on the deed, she is better off being removed from the former because she carries the financial risk without the financial gain. 

She co-signed on the loan, perhaps because your stepson would not have qualified without his girlfriend’s salary or credit score. He got a house. She got a boyfriend and the promise of a future. She likely agreed to this because she believed they would get married and/or build a life together. But you’re right that she is left high and dry now that they are splitting. 

Your stepson’s girlfriend should receive whatever she invested in the home, and the increase in value over the last five years, but unfortunately he is not legally bound to give her anything if they had nothing in writing. It’s a double whammy for her to lose both the man she loves and her home, and a cautionary tale for other people entering into such agreements.

Another if: If her name is on both the deed and the mortgage, I suggest you sit down with her in person and tell her that times of great emotional stress — relationship breakups, deaths, divorce, etc. — are the worst to make big, irrevocable decisions about her future. Giving up half of the home, if she is on the deed, would be a mistake she could regret for years to come.

If in doubt, do nothing. Or, better yet, implore her to seek advice from people she trusts.

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