My wife inherited $800K. She put $300K toward our mortgage and $500K in her own bank account — after 35 years of marriage


Dear Quentin,

I’ve been married 35 years.

My wife is going to inherit $800,000 and told me she will use $300,000 to pay off our mortgage. The house is worth $450,000. But she will put the remaining $500,000 into her own personal checking account.

I’m 65 and still work. I earn $130,000 a year and plan to continue to work for another five years, as long as I am in good health.

My wife retired two years ago at age 59 after working for 13 years, earning $20,000 a year. She mostly stayed home and helped raise our two children, who are now adults with their own jobs.

My wife gets a small pension and I will also get a pension. We have no savings, no 401(k), nothing. I paid for my kids’ college education. We own one car outright. I have credit-card debt of nearly $80,000. My wife has credit-card debt of $2,800.

What do you think of the way she has treated her inheritance? If we divorce, will I have to pay her alimony?

Been Working Since I Was 16

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Dear Working,

Don’t allow your frustration over this inheritance OR the fact that you have been working since 16 to force you into doing something rash. Your wife has used more than one-third of this money to pay off your joint mortgage. Inheritances are not considered community property, so she is clearly taking her time deciding what to do with it. While that may feel like a slap in the face after 35 years of marriage, she is legally entitled to do that, and personally entitled to do so too.

You don’t say why you have $80,000 in credit-card debt and your wife only has $2,800. Assuming it’s notbecause of your children’s college expenses, this disparity may also reveal that you have different spending habits and abilities to manage your money. That’s a lot of money to have on your credit card, and if you racked up that money on miscellaneous expenses, I can understand why your wife did not believe it was her responsibility to pay off your personal debt.

Imagine if the tables were turned and you put $300,000 of your inheritance toward this house, and then your wife turned around and said, ‘Thanks for paying off a chunk of our mortgage, but I feel like this is a good time for a divorce.’

Given the disparity in your incomes, I can understand why you feel the way you do. But that does not take into account being a stay-at-home mother, which is a full-time job in itself. That, plus her $20,000-a-year job, suggests to me that she more than contributed her fair share of time and labor to the marriage.

Plus, even though she was paid less than you, let’s assume that she worked as hard as anyone for those 13 years. Bottom line: You both worked.

Your question regarding alimony likely depends on where you live, your individual circumstances, the judge, and the size of the inheritance. Previous cases have shown that the income generated from an inheritance can be a factor in determining alimony, even though inheritance is generally considered separate property. You were the major breadwinner, and based on previous cases on inheritance, it’s unlikely to be a major factor in alimony.

Think of it this way: She has just contributed $300,000 to your life together when she could have kept all of that money, and divorced you. Just imagine if the tables were turned and you put $300,000 of your inheritance toward this house, and then your wife turned around and said, “Thanks for paying off a chunk of our mortgage, but I feel like this is a good time for a divorce.”

If you feel upset now, you would be absolutely furious then.

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