In Mother-in-Law We Trust
Hi Amalah, love your column. I have never written to an advice column but this is one of the stranger things that has happened to me as a mother and I’m not quite sure how to react.
I have two young ones and a wonderful hard working husband. All of my immediate family with whom I am extremely close live halfway across the country. We see each other as often as possible and go home for weeks at a time over summer and the holidays.
My husband’s family is local, they are wonderful and supportive. Love them dearly but to be truthful, if we could live closer to my family, it would be a dream for me. We can’t though for many reasons, work, house, etc.
Sooooo, recently my MIL has been pushing that we needed life insurance (two young children, a mortgage) and of course we do. We however simply cannot add another bill to the roster, we are maxed. Yesterday she announced she wants to pay for it, handed us some paperwork and said it had to happen. Nice, right? Ok… She also announced that it will be her $$ paying it and she is hellbent on ownership and being sole beneficiary. If something happens to him, me, or both she wants the power of the goods. I would think I would be my husband’s beneficiary, he would be mine, and we would make a trust for the kids (if heaven forbid something happened to us) and make her trustee.
So husband is willing to talk to her. But what should he say? And why did she create such a weird scenario? She is a dear, a bit overbearing but very dedicated to the family. I’m sure she would hate to see us move closer to my family which I once in a blue moon talk about. I have been apart from my family ten years, they truly are my best friends but she never seems too compassionate about me missing them. I know she is fearful about one day us moving but it’s not likely, I just am a bit distraught about this situation and I don’t want it to sour any relations. I spoke to my father about it and he was a bit shocked (appalled actually). I just want to know how to tell her no thank you if those are the conditions without her taking offense. Maybe I’m overreacting and we should just say no thank you if those are the conditions, but I’m not crazy…weird right? I feel guilty cause I do love my in-laws a lot. I really needed to vent someplace anonymously though.
So your mother-in-law wants to give you a gift with strings attached. And surprise! The gift is financial in nature. Basically one of the oldest stories in the Meddling Family Playbook, just with your own details filled in.
Sadly, many people are unable to hand over monetary gifts without expecting a certain degree of control or “say” in how that money is used. And honestly, I think we all do it, just a little bit. You loan money to a friend to help pay her rent but then find out she made an arrangement with her landlord and used your funds to upgrade her cable. You PayPal a few bucks to a blogger going through a crisis and then are taken aback by posts celebrating a new expensive laptop or mentioning twice-daily trips to Starbucks. You give a dollar to a panhandler and then get bent out of shape when you see them walking to the liquor store.
Basically, if you were the gift-giver in this scenario I’d probably tell you that hey, if you want a say in how gifted money gets spent, donate it to a reputable, transparent charity. Once you hand it over to individual friends and families, back off. It’s theirs now, seriously.
In this case, your mother-in-law is able to demand an awful lot of control right upfront. You want the gift? Here are her terms. It’s probably a good thing, actually, that you’re able to find out her conditions BEFORE signing up for the policy and then, I don’t know, ending up in a legal battle over the benefits down the road when she realizes that you plan to use them to pay off your mortgage and relocate her grandchildren across the country to be closer to your family.
I also wonder if her desire to control the benefits stems from a belief/opinion that you and your husband are not financially responsible? Not saying that you AREN’T, but just that her interest in your life insurance situation is…odd to me, especially the way she basically was like, “THIS IS HAPPENING, YOU TWO, I MEAN IT.” Kind of overbearing and infantilizing. I don’t believe my parents or in-laws have ever even asked my husband and me about our life insurance situation…mostly because they trust us to make those sorts of decisions on our own. The fact that she’s clearly taken such an interest in your personal financial affairs would make me wary about her getting even more up close and personal with them. Today it’s life insurance, tomorrow it’s “innocent” questions about when you’re planning to go back to work, the next day it’s your children’s college funds, etc.
Your beneficiary plan of COURSE makes perfect sense, and by all means, your husband should suggest that you two are more comfortable using a more traditional spouse-as-beneficiary/trust-for-children arrangement. But at the end of the day, it is her money. And she continues to push for her arrangement and you guys all come to an impasse, everybody has to make a decision as to what’s more important. If she really just wants you two to have a life insurance policy and this isn’t about control and/or judgy meddling, she should back down. If she doesn’t, it’s up to you and your husband to decide if you can live with her terms or if you’d rather draw a firmer boundary around everything bank-account-related.
You could also go to her with another option: Does your husband have any opportunity to buy some low-cost group life insurance through his employer, or does his company at least work with an insurer who can offer him better rates than the one your MIL has found? Find out how much a simple mortgage life insurance plan would cost (this won’t award the beneficiaries a big cash amount, but will simply make sure your mortgage is paid off, which is the big burden you’d probably want taken care of in case of a death). Again, if this really is just about her wanting you to have some kind of insurance safety net, maybe she’d agree to help you out with the premiums on a plan of your choosing…even just temporarily, until you find a little breathing room in your budget. Maybe she’ll just be happy to see that yes, you are taking her fears and concerns seriously and being proactive, instead of just saying, “yeah, yeah, we know, but we can’t, whatever.” (Not saying that you ARE saying that…just maybe that’s what she’s hearing.)
Or maybe she’ll stick to her guns over her “right” to control the benefits from any policy she contributes to. At that point I have no specific advice, except to weigh the pros and cons of that control very carefully. Obviously, we all want to never have to actually use our life insurance, but the reality is that you might, so think long and hard about whether or not you’d be okay with someone else controlling the purse strings in the event of a tragedy.
Photo credit: ThinkstockPublished November 2, 2011. Last updated July 19, 2012.