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In Mother-in-Law We Trust

In Mother-in-Law We Trust

By Amalah

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.  

Many thanks,
Anonymous

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: Thinkstock

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Becky
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Becky

I read this and had the visceral reaction of, OH MY GOD DO NOT HAVE ANYONE OTHER THAN YOUR SPOUSE AS YOUR BENEFICIARY. I mean, do you want her to be the guardian if something happened to you and your husband?

If you don’t have a will, then you should make one. Look into life insurance at work, and make a will that lays out guardianship and a trust to provide for your son. Even if you want your MIL to be the guardian, your instinct is correct as to how you should set everything up.

Becky
Guest
Becky

I read this and had the visceral reaction of, OH MY GOD DO NOT HAVE ANYONE OTHER THAN YOUR SPOUSE AS YOUR BENEFICIARY. I mean, do you want her to be the guardian if something happened to you and your husband?

If you don’t have a will, then you should make one. Look into life insurance at work, and make a will that lays out guardianship and a trust to provide for your son. Even if you want your MIL to be the guardian, your instinct is correct as to how you should set everything up.

Suzy Q
Guest
Suzy Q

As always, good advice from Amalah. To me, it sounds as if the MIL is trying to control custody of the grandkids in case of tragedy.  Where the money is, the grandkids go, might be her thinking.  To which I say, Bollocks!  It might be best to use whatever money can be eked out or saved up to create wills, if you haven’t already done so.  With guardianship provisions, of course.

Good luck!

Daisy
Guest

I won’t lie, my gut reaction to this situation was swift dismissal. She wants to invest money in you, plain and simple. Perhaps she wants to buy a whole life policy and cash it in some years later, perhaps not, but how exactly does an insurance policy she is the beneficiary of HELP either of you in the event of an untimely death? Now of course there are promises that it would go to help the surviving spouse and kids, but the insurance policy won’t have that condition built into it, so there is nothing to hold her to it.… Read more »

Liz
Guest
Liz

My gut reaction is that you need to turn down her offer, regardless of the strings attached (and there always will be some, even if she drops the crazier provisions making her the beneficiary). I 100% agree with Amalah that you or your spouse should look into life insurance through work, and as soon as you can afford to, sit down and make a will that names guardians and beneficiaries of everything. It can be cheaper if you do an Internet version, more expensive if you go to a lawyer, but won’t need much updating int he future – just… Read more »

Liz
Guest
Liz

Ack. I wrote a really long comment and it didn’t stick. The short version — turn down this offer, regardless. Look into getting group life inusrance through your employer(s), and do a will as soon as you can, either an Internet version, or better yet, spring for a lawyer to do it right since it sounds like your MIL might be litigious if worse does come to worst.

Liz
Guest
Liz

And now both stuck. Sorry.

z
Guest
z

This does seem really weird.  Maybe she’s accidentally involved in some life insurance pyramid scheme?  Don’t do it!  Maybe you can consolidate house/renters/car/whatever else insurance with one company and get a better deal.

Kimberly
Guest

NO. OMG JUST NO. There’s no benefit to your children if SHE is the sole beneficiary. THEY WOULD BE ENTITLED TO NOTHING. How would this benefit them? For less than $500, you can have your wills drawn up by an attorney, and it’s fairly standard to include a trust for minor children. The wills will provide for afterborn children, so you need not worry about updating every time you have a child. 

The gall of that woman…!!!!

Kate
Guest
Kate

I’m puzzled by the answer to this question–isn’t Anonymous just asking how to say “no” without causing waves?  It doesn’t sound to me like she is considering taking MIL up on her offer–she seems to already feel like this is a very weird scenario.  Confused why Amalah answered by affirming the weirdness and telling the asker that she should say “no” without answering the actual question of HOW to say “no.”

Melissa
Guest
Melissa

Depending on what state you live in, your MIL’s wishes may not be able to be granted legally. Often, the spouse is automatically the beneficiary (legally) unless they sign off that the child is, and even then the child can only receive a certain percentage. I’d suggest you contact your insurance agent and see what the ins and outs are before you even call MIL. 

Marnie
Guest
Marnie

First, complete agree with Amalah: say no to the MIL, great idea and thankyouverymuch but you’ll take care of that yourself, quickly. Second, get thee to an attorney and/or financial advisor. ASAP. If you don’t have life insurance, then you may not have a will with guardianship spelled out, either, and you need both. A financial advisor doesn’t have to be expensive, and if you find one you trust who isn’t trying to sell you an arm and a leg it’s well worth it. They should be asking questions like how much will it cost to make monthly obligations if… Read more »

Marnie
Guest
Marnie

First, complete agree with Amalah: say no to the MIL, great idea and thankyouverymuch but you’ll take care of that yourself, quickly. Second, get thee to an attorney and/or financial advisor. ASAP. If you don’t have life insurance, then you may not have a will with guardianship spelled out, either, and you need both. A financial advisor doesn’t have to be expensive, and if you find one you trust who isn’t trying to sell you an arm and a leg it’s well worth it. They should be asking questions like how much will it cost to make monthly obligations if… Read more »

andrea
Guest
andrea

Just some another option if she is looking to provide security for your future or that of your grandkids.. perhaps a 529 college fund that she could set up and add investments or a trust fund for the kids.

SarahB
Guest
SarahB

1) Say no.  Whether it offends or her not does not matter.  Her initial proposal is offensive.  Do not accept her offer even if she offers to make you each the beneficiary for the other now.  Check into your husband’s employer’s offerings, do some online research, and figure it out yourselves (the if, when, how much, etc).  You might be surprised how cheap it is if you are in good health. 2) Stop telling your ILs anything about your finances.  “Do you guys have life insurance?”  “We’ve got it covered, Mom.”  “How much did you pay for ___?”  We’ve got… Read more »

VG
Guest
VG

You need to have your hubby sit down and voice honestly his concerns over this proposition MIL is giving. She should be more diplomatic instead of shoving the papers in your face. I mean, really? Have a bit more consideration for the private affairs of your son & DIL. Also, you really need to have wills drawn up. There’s even free downloads on the internet that can at least show you on paper what’s involved and you could take that rough draft to a lawyer to have filed legally. This need to be a decision only YOU & YOUR HUSBAND… Read more »

liz
Guest

What they all said. Say “No, but thank you kindly” to your MIL. And offer up the 529 suggestion.

If you don’t have a will, many states accept as legal wills written in your own handwriting and signed in front of a notary. Check with your state’s probate office.

Zoe
Guest
Zoe

No advice to add but I wanted to say I feel your pain on the separation from your family and a MIL that doesn’t seem to care. I was born and raised in England and now live in the US. My family are all back home and I miss them like crazy. I would love to move back, but it isn’t financially possible. Several years ago, I was talking with my MIL about the possibility of moving back and she actually said “Why would you want to move back? There’s nothing for you there!” Oh so my parents, sister, brother,… Read more »

Lauren
Guest
Lauren

DO NOT DO THIS. My sister lost her husband suddenly and thank goodness they had named each other as beneficiaries because her once “lovely” and “dear” in-laws decided they wanted to control everything that had been my brother-in-laws, including meddling in whether or not my sister sold their house and for how much. Trust me, dealing with the loss of a spouse is bad enough without having to deal with unnecessary drama from your in-laws. Good luck.

Babs
Guest
Babs

When your husband chats with her he needs to thank her for being up front about her expectations, because she really saved you a lot of grief. Seriously.That said, he can easily say, “Mom, thank you for this generous offer, but we decided early on that we can’t accept monetary gifts that come with any strings. Not from her family and not from mine. It’s hard enough to balance money between two adults and I think bringing another decision maker into our marriage is a bad idea.”

Ali
Guest

I LOVE this response. “…bringing another decision maker into our marriage is a bad idea.” It is the perfect blend of kindness, snark, and very large reality-check. Excellently crafted response, Babs!

Kate
Guest
Kate

Life insurance is definitely a buy now, not later item. if you are in good health, you can buy a term life (not whole life, total rip off) plan for very little. My coverage is about $500K for $300 a year (only $25/month)- put it in the budget and don’t look back. The will, power of attorney, etc are must-dos right now – don’t wait! It’s not morbid, it’s responsible. Maybe the MIL could instead open a college savings plan or a mutal fund in the grandkids’ names – putting $500/year in a fund for 18 years will be a… Read more »

spring
Guest

When you tell her no, thank you, I would just say that while you appreciate her concern and desire to help, you genuinely cannot imagine how the purchase of a life insurance policy that only benefits her could possibly help you or your husband as the surviving spouse, or how it could help your kids.  Really, I’m mystified as to why she thinks this offer benefits your family in any way.

MR
Guest
MR

Wow. I would be absolutely baffled. The purpose of life insurance is to protect your family. By naming her the beneficiary, your family is not protected AT ALL. She is under no legal obligation to give you anything. So, getting a life insurance policy with your mil as beneficiary is the same as not having one at all. So, quite simply, just say “thank you for the offer, but we are not comfortable with those terms, and we will take care of getting life insurance when we are able.” If she brings it up again, just say “it is sweet… Read more »

Jess
Guest

I agree with some of the other commenters here… having a life insurance policy in which the surviving spouse and children are not the beneficiary doesn’t offer any guarantees whatsoever. I would urge you to look into the pricing of life insurance policies. You may find that they are less expensive than you might think. I have a $500,000 policy through work for which I pay $11/month. My husband has a $1 million policy that we purchased independently when he was self employed for which we pay $375 a year. So even if you can’t get a policy through your… Read more »

LMo
Guest
LMo

I agree with the others. I did notice several commenters suggesting that your MIL start a college fund for your kids. Another option is that she could pay the legal fees associated with drafting a will, trust, and durable power of attorney (all of which you and your husband should have). Then you get your lawyer to do the dirty work–while your MIL is paying the bills, she is not the client and you can ask your attorney not to communicate with her about the substance of your discussions. Attorney can only discuss billing issues with her, and you and… Read more »

Hillary
Guest
Hillary

I think you should get your parents to foot the bill and then throw it in your MIL’s face! HAHA. Just kidding. I just wanted to commend you for pointing out that it is possible to be really close to one’s in-laws. Parents and in-laws can do weird things, and while I agree this is a weird thing, it doesn’t make your MIL a weirdo or someone you have to guard yourself against. I think your ‘no’ will have more weight if you can invest in life insurance on your own, without her help. I’m curious WHY she wants to… Read more »

Hannah
Guest

Am I the only one here who thinks the problem starts with letting *anyone* outside the marriage know the state of your finances? Whether parents or in-laws, it shouldn’t matter – take charge of your own money and stop any questioning on that issue dead. Seriously. Unless you’re living off of their income somehow, they have absolutely NO RIGHT to be involved in these kinds of decisions or even to know what plans you have. (Have plans, that’s only responsible. But don’t involve other people in the planning process and tell them what arrangements you have in your wills AFTER… Read more »

Megan
Guest
Megan

But yourself some cheap, simple Term Life Insurance from zander! Unless you have some big health problems or something it should only be about $15 bucks a month. Eat some rice and beans once a month and you’re good to go! No MIL help needed!

Robynn
Guest
Robynn

Oh my god, she’s taking out a contract on your life. If you die, she gets money. That’s is the sum total of what she is doing. The life insurance policy doesn’t benefit you, your husband, or your kids at all. I’d be watching to see if she tastes her food before you eat yours!

Holly
Guest
Holly

I literally recoiled when I read this post. No. No. No. If you’re really hard up, you could accept her paying the premiums – in a roundabout way, have her write you the check, you write the company the check. But only if it’s really a stretch financially, because something tells me that this will get lorded over your heads FOREVER. Even more so if it, heaven forbid, is put to use – it will be, “WELL, if *I*hadn’t paid for that policy all those years, where would you be now”. And, again, last thing you want to deal with… Read more »

Tracy
Guest
Tracy

Since the letter writer asked how to say no without giving offense, there is one other option.: Don’t bother! Let her buy her insurance policy! It’s her money, let her do what she wants with it. But the thing is, DO NOT ASSUME THIS IS FOR YOUR BENEFIT. Buy your own life insurance. And let her know you have done so. “If you want to insure our lives, that’s fine. But of course, as adults, we need policies that will benefit us.” And then, for God’s sake, stop telling her about your finances.

Michelle
Guest
Michelle

I don’t think that your MIL has any bad intentions. It sounds like you generally have a good relationshp with her and you shouldn’t do anything that will ruin that. I would say something like: “Thank you for offering to buy life insurance for us, but we are not comfortable with someone paying for our life insurance. We will try our best to find room in our budget for life insurance in the future. Talking about life insurance isn’t a pleasant subject for us and we would appreciate if you did not bring this topic up anymore.”

Sharon
Guest
Sharon

I haven’t read the other comments in detail – they seem to contain lots of good advice – , but if you want to find a compromise with her (or if she won’t take no for an answer), as an estate planning attorney here is my 2 cents: Find a lawyer who specializes in estate planning, tell your MIL that you need to discuss her offer with your attorney, and then ask the attorney to run you through the details of Life Insurance Trusts. Briefly stated, the trust holds the policy and can also hold the proceeds on the death… Read more »

Katie
Guest
Katie

Okay, the perfect excuse popped into my head (though you’ll need to do a little more research): taxes!! From what I know, money from the life insurance policy is generally exempt from any gift or estate taxes, when it is paid to the beneficiary. BUT…if something were to happen to one of you, and your mother were to get the money, any payment to your or your husband over a certain amount (it used to be $10,000ish) would very likely be taxable under the federal gift tax. In other words, your MIL couldn’t likely just pay off your mortgage for… Read more »