‘It feels like a lose-lose’: I have a $10 million net worth. My father-in-law has dementia. Am I responsible for my in-laws if they run out of money? 

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I’m happily married to my wife of 20 years. I am by no means a financial expert, but I do know more than the average investor.

I do, however, worry about my in-laws. Unfortunately, my father-in-law has serious dementia and will probably need care soon. I’ve asked my mother-in-law to let me review their finances. They have a person who has managed their money for many years, but they are overly trusting, and I have no idea what he invested in or how much he charges for management fees. I believe they’ve done reasonably OK so far.

My mother-in-law has not been willing to share any of this information and just says that their manager has been taking care of them for years. My concern is that they could very, very easily be taken advantage of. Her parents are lovely people, but they are not very financially savvy. They could be heading into some long years of medical expenses in the future, and I’m just trying to make sure they’re going to be in a position to manage those.

‘I already cover all of the expenses for my entire family.’

I’ve done relatively well. I am in my mid-50s and have a net worth of over $10 million, which may seem like a lot to some, but I also have two college educations to pay for. I’d also like to close my company in another couple of years, spend more time traveling with my wife, get a nice boat and a house on the water, and try to start a new reasonably capital-intensive business, which would hopefully work out.

Here is my question: Am I responsible for paying for my in-laws’ lifestyle and caretaking if they run out of money because they didn’t agree to let me review their finances? I just feel that it puts me in a difficult position. My wife would pay for whatever they needed, but that just doesn’t sit quite right with me given both my offer to help with a financial review now, before it might be potentially too late, and how hard I’ve had to work to get where I am.

It feels like a lose-lose for me. I’m either a jerk for pushing them to share their investment situation, or I’m a jerk for not wanting to pay all their expenses if that ends up being the case. I know I’m fortunate to be in the financial situation I am, but that came at the expense of working endless 100-hour weeks for 25-plus years, missing birthdays, holidays and vacations, etc.  

I already cover all of the expenses for my entire family.

Your thoughts would be welcome.    

Trying Not to Feel like a Selfish Jerk

Dear Trying,

You’re in a win-win situation. 

You have more money than most Americans. A lot more. The average net worth for Americans is around $750,000, but the median net worth is closer to $122,000, according to the Federal Reserve. You have $10 million, which is more than enough to retire on in your 50s. You’ve worked hard for it, but as you have discovered, with more money comes more responsibilities (your in-laws), as well as more wants (a house on the water, a boat, lavish vacations etc.). 

So I’m going to tell you what my fifth-grade teacher told me when I asked her if I had to do my homework. “You don’t have to do anything!” she replied. That is, I could turn up the next day without my homework done. But I would have probably suffered some consequences: detention, a letter home to my parents, falling behind on my schoolwork, a deterioration in my grades and a lack of trust and respect between myself and my teacher.

What I’m saying is that you are under no obligation to pay for a caregiver for your in-laws, but it seems like (a) you are worrying about losing a portion of your wealth without any evidence to support those concerns and (b) your ambitions for how you spend your money are being clouded by others who you believe may ask you for a slice of the pie. In a worst-case scenario, you could buy them a house to live in that would also act as an investment for yourself.

You could help prevent bigger problems down the road for your in-laws by hiring an attorney who specializes in issues such as dementia, and who would be a good help in advising your mother-in-law on how much money she may need for her husband’s end-of-life care, and managing the role of power of attorney. This may provide the impetus for her to open her books, look at how much money she has and/or share this information with you and your wife.

‘I’m going to tell you what my fifth-grade teacher told me.’

MarketWatch columnist Beth Pinsker agrees that “Mom/Dad, how much money do you have?” is a critical question. The cost of an in-home health aide averages more than $5,000 a month, she notes, while an assisted-living facility costs $4,500 and a private room in a nursing home costs $9,000. “Medicare does not cover those kinds of costs, and a person has to spend down almost all their assets before they qualify for Medicaid,” she writes.

I don’t think you’re a jerk. I do think that you need a place for your anxieties — financial or otherwise — and your in-laws have become the recipients of those anxieties. If you didn’t have in-laws, I suspect you would be feeling anxious about other things — such as where your money is deposited and whether it’s safe, given current events in the banking sector — and feeling disappointed that you might be able afford a house on the water or boat, but not a more extravagant house or yacht. 

You could lose it all in a bad business deal! You could end up paying for nursing care for your in-laws if they’re swindled! Your bank could go under and you may not have FDIC insurance for all of your money! By the time you decide to invest in a house on the water, you may discover that it was $2 million cheaper a few short years before you decided to make the purchase! There are all kinds of reasons you can find to feel financially insecure, troubled or aggrieved. 

Think of all the people who wish they could help their parents, if only they had a few extra bucks. Or first-generation immigrants who would like to bring their parents to the U.S. Some of the world’s richest people have signed the Giving Pledge, promising to give away their fortune. As Microsoft
co-founder Bill Gates said of the pledge, “It’s kind of the best of capitalism.” Your hard-won good fortune is a golden opportunity to help your in-laws, should they ever need it.

You could turn your frown upside down, and view it as the greatest gift of all, something that makes all those 100-hour weeks worth it.

Yocan email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions at [email protected], and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.

Check out the Moneyist private Facebook group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

The Moneyist regrets he cannot reply to questions individually.

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