Dear Jeanne and Leonard: How do you split a house between two children? My husband and I live in a beautiful, ocean-view home. We have two adult children with families of their own, and it's clear that each of them would like to inherit it and live in it. We want to divide our estate evenly between the two kids, and it won't be difficult to divide our financial assets, which are worth a good bit less than the home. But since co-ownership won't work -- both families can't live in the house -- all we can think to do is direct that the house be sold and the proceeds divided between our children. Your thoughts?
Dear Natalie: Any politician will tell you that you can't please all the people all the time. But don't give up entirely: Leave the home to both of your children, then let them work out for themselves whether they want to sell it to an outsider, whether one wants to buy out the other or whether they want to co-own it. Just be certain to include a directive that requires them to sell the property within, say, six months if they can't come to an agreement on what to do with it. You want to give your children an opportunity to keep your lovely home -- not something to fight over for the rest of their lives.
Dear Jeanne and Leonard: My 94-year-old father is seriously incapacitated. But he continues to live in his own house, and he insists that he wants to live there until he dies. The problem is that he's running out of money. It now costs close to $10,000 a month just for the personal care he requires; at this rate, he's going to be out of cash in 18 to 20 months. Since my brother and I look after his finances, Dad, who's a little foggy mentally, has no idea that he can't afford to stay in his house forever. What should we do and when? Dad hates assisted living facilities, and we don't want him to be miserable for the rest of his life. Plus, it's his money, not ours.
Dear Marty: While your father is entitled to spend his money as he sees fit, he's not entitled to imprudently blow it all when you and your brother are responsible for his care. Unless his doctors tell you he has only a short time to live, the two of you need to start checking out assisted living facilities -- pronto -- and come up with a budget that covers his care for at least another four to five years.
With all due respect to your dad, these facilities are filled with generally satisfied residents who once felt the way he did. You can't let his feelings keep you from ensuring that he doesn't wind up a ward of the state or of you and your brother.
P.S. If your father owns his home, investigate a reverse mortgage. Perhaps he has enough equity in the house to allow him to live in it for many more years.
Dear Jeanne and Leonard: I live in a small, three-story condominium building where all the expenses are split evenly among the owners. I live on the first floor and never use the elevator, which frequently breaks down. Why should I have to pay for a portion of the maintenance of something I never use?
Dear K.T.: Probably because the rules of the homeowners association say you must -- in other words, this is the deal you agreed to when you bought your unit. That isn't to say you can't lobby the other homeowners to change the allocation of the elevator expenses. But if you do, be prepared for your upstairs neighbors to point to expenses they think they shouldn't have to pay a full share of -- flood insurance, for example.
Jeanne Fleming and Leonard Schwarz are Palo Alto-based columnists and authors. Please email your questions about money and relationships to Questions@MoneyManners.net.