‘My husband controls my finances but has left everything to his kids. Help!’

Mar 06, 2020
It can be difficult to break free from a controlling situation, particularly when finances are involved. Source: Getty.

Q: I’ve been living with my husband for 18 years and married to him for 16. We live in a property in an over-55s community that my husband bought five years ago. I’m on the lease as owning 1 per cent of the property (without that, I’d have had to vacate the property on his death, according to the rules of the community).

My husband has willed the house to his children but written in his will that I can live in the house until I pass away, although he hasn’t specified whether I’d be a tenant or any other terms on how I would live there. He also hasn’t specified in his will who’d pay for the upkeep of the house while I lived there but has said that he thinks it should be me, not his children.

I don’t have any income of my own, not even the Age Pension, but my husband gives me $630 a month to live on, which I use to pay for food, my phone, fuel for my car and medical costs – and he gives me a $300 bonus once a year (and covers all the current upkeep on our property). But I have constant debt on my credit card as I can’t manage on this money. I do everything inside and out of the house – all of the cooking, cleaning, shopping and gardening.

I’m worried that if he passes on, his children, who never come to visit him, may challenge his will and sell the house, which they’ll own 99 per cent of, and I’ll have nowhere to go and no money. Also, I’m worried about who will pay the fees, the costs of repairs and other upkeep costs on the home. I’m very upset about this. What rights do I have?

A: Well, where do I start? Firstly, can I say I do feel very sorry for you. Your husband seems to have been very controlling for a very long time and you seem to have been very tolerant of it for a very long time.

Your first decision is whether you want to do anything about the situation that has left you in this precarious financial and legal position. He may become aware of anything you do, e.g., getting some advice. That may cause more stress for you, if not deterioration in your relationship. It is not possible to determine the consequence of that.

However, you need to invest some time in yourself and your future. We call it personal risk management. You are in a fragile position and prompt action is needed, if nothing else, just to know what you can do (if you wanted to).

To that end you should consider:

  • Seeing a lawyer who is an expert in elder law. They could tell you, for example, what it means for you to hold a mere 1 percent interest in the property and how you could change a few things to improve your future security
  • Getting financial advice about such things as whether you could qualify for the Age Pension with all the other benefits that come with it. It would also give you some semblance of financial independence.
  • Even counselling about your situation may help given how long you have tolerated the situation and how to go about improving things without causing a conflagration. Your husband may even be encouraged to participate.

In the end, you should decide whether you want to do anything about your situation. It’s a cost/benefit decision. If you decide to do something, then you need to do it. Otherwise, your happiness will just deteriorate further.

If you have a question for Starts at 60’s money experts, email it to [email protected].

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your financial situation, objectives or needs. That means it’s not financial product advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a financial decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get independent, licensed financial services advice.

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