I'd rather have a pot of money than an empty lot.
November 10, 2011 3:49 PM   Subscribe

I spent a large chunk of inheritance money on a real estate purchase, and now I want it back. My husband doesn't agree with this feeling. There are of course special circumstances and emotions involved.

About a year and a half ago, my father passed away. His death was expected and I knew in advance that I would receive a certain amount of money as an inheritance. What I did not know at the time was that he had an additional life insurance policy with my brother and me as beneficiaries, and we each essentially ended up receiving double the inheritance we had expected.

I had already had a plan for the amount I expected to receive, which involved spending a certain amount and saving a certain amount. When it turned out there was more than I had originally planned for, it opened up new opportunities. One thing I ended up doing with a large chunk of it was buying a piece of real estate with my husband. We paid cash for a piece of property with a tear-down house, and have since shelled out a few thousand dollars for the demolition of the home and some landscaping work. We now have a garage left on the property which we have talked about adding an apartment to, and the option to build in the future if we'd like.

While my father's death was no surprise, the array of feelings and circumstances I have found myself in since his passing have left me feeling at time a bit adrift. For instance, immediately after he passed away, I left my job of several years, took the summer more or less "off" and then started graduate school, only to decide I did not have an interest in the program I was pursuing. So, I ended up going back to my old job but after a year I am again ready to move on and would really like to take a few months to spend time with my family on the opposite side of the country before again pursuing something that I am truly interested in. It is my feeling in retrospect that I minimized the amount of time I would need to really let myself feel my way through the grieving process, and I have spent a large amount of time in the last year and a half trying to work very hard and stay very busy, but I see now that if I had just let myself have more time to process and think about what was really important to me, many of my choices might have been different.

I am feeling very much like I wish that I had not spent the money on the property at the time we did. I feel as though I took money that had been left to me as a gift and turned it into an investment for my husband and myself, but which I would personally rather get the benefit from now. This of course gets blurry when I start trying to think through the ins and outs of "our" money vs. "my" money, but it may also be helpful to clarify that we only married a little over a year ago and all of this is new.

I feel like if I had not spent the money on the property I would have an additional safety net now that I do not. My husband feels like it was a good investment that we can leverage in the future and he thinks I am being impractical to have a desire to spend some of it freely. I cannot figure out if I am just being too emotional and would like some outside advice and perspective.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (14 answers total)
OP, it sounds like you went through a HUGE amount of life changes in the wake of a lot of grief and challenging-to-process emotions after your father's death. In the past two years, you lost your father, married, left your job, started graduate school, dropped out, and started working again.

I'm not sure what your question is, though. That land you bought can't just magically turn back into money -- and it's not clear that's even something you would want if it were possible. Have you talked to a therapist? Because you have a lot going on, and we strangers on the internet can only do so much to help you sort out the quagmire of feelings and choices you have.
posted by pupstocks at 4:00 PM on November 10, 2011 [6 favorites]

I'll say one more thing, which is that the past is past and can't be changed. The thing to work on clarifying for yourself now is less about why you made the choices you made THEN and more about what choices you want to make NOW to get to where you want to be TOMORROW. Y'know?
posted by pupstocks at 4:03 PM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

When your dad bought life insurance, he was probably thinking about it helping to provide for his children, rather than as a gift or as something to help them through the grieving process.

It is entirely up to you how you spend an inheritance, and regardless of the merits of a short-term safety net, turning part of the inheritance into an investment that will provide for you over the long term is quite possibly exactly what your father had in mind, and I don't think you need to feel mercurial for doing that. Dads are often pretty practical about those things.
posted by -harlequin- at 4:05 PM on November 10, 2011 [8 favorites]

I don't really understand this bit: I feel like if I had not spent the money on the property I would have an additional safety net now that I do not. My husband feels like it was a good investment that we can leverage in the future and he thinks I am being impractical to have a desire to spend some of it freely.

A "safety net" is basically money sitting there in case you need it. By investing in real estate you have money sitting there in case you need it. You have your safety net. In the last setence of this bit you refer to spending money "freely". This would mean you no longer had a safety net.

So are you looking for a safety net, or fun money, or money for a specific need that you have right not? Clarifying this (to yourself, at least) would make it easier for you to figure out how to persuade your husband. If the money is needed for a specific purpose now, presumably he would be open to selling to property and using the money. Unless he disagrees that the need exists.
posted by lollusc at 4:17 PM on November 10, 2011 [14 favorites]

"right NOW" not "right not"
posted by lollusc at 4:18 PM on November 10, 2011

It frequently takes longer than people think to process the death of a parent, no matter how old you are. You sound to me like you are still very much adrift and still grieving. My advice, as someone who been in a similar place, is for you to do nothing for 6 months or even a year or so, and then see how you feel. Any emotions you feel right now are not going to be "fixed" by spending money, and you could end up blowing your inheritance and still feeling the same way you do now. The property will still be there, and you could still sell it then if you wanted to.
posted by MexicanYenta at 4:38 PM on November 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

It sounds like you still have some issues surrounding your father's passing, which is not unreasonable. As someone above already has questioned I am not sure exactly what you are asking. The money you spent on the property is an investment that will likely provide a safety net much greater then a wad of cash sitting there ready to be spent on your current emotional uncertainty. Are you asking if it is prudent to sell the property so you now have a bankroll to grieve on? I... don't know the answer to a question like that, but suspect the answer is, not really.

It is certainly right and proper to find an appropriate way to grieve, but as well, you also need to find a path back to stability and having a goal, a purpose, in life. Life is for the living after all.

Find yourself a good grief counselor, as it is you sound a bit aimless and adrift.

I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by edgeways at 4:49 PM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

This sounds like a purely emotional problem. From a financial standpoint, if you get a large wad of cash, spending it on a house is a great thing to do -- you have to live somewhere, and if you buy a house in cash you don't have to pay mortgage interest which is likely to be hundreds or thousands of dollars a month. Unless you bought a far more luxurious house than you would have otherwise, you're probably "earning" way more money by not paying interest than you would in any other form of investment.

You can't go back in time and unbuy the house. But even if you could, I don't think you should. Buying the house was a wise long-term financial decision and you should be proud of yourself for treating your father's money so carefully.
posted by miyabo at 5:08 PM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think you should sit tight. Money won't help you get past losing your father. If you were financially insecure in a way that the money would make a difference between worrying about next month's rent or not, it would be a different situation. Money can help prevent the loss of parent from also being the loss of a financial safety net, but you cannot spend your way past grief.

If it is theoretically possible to turn the land back into money now, that hopefully means it's a fair investment and that money isn't going anywhere.

You have a lot of things to sort out. It kind of sounds like you're fixating on the money possibly as a way to avoid really dealing with other things, including mourning.

If you trust and love your husband, take the burden of this potential decision off your mind and let him support you emotionally - which is so much more valuable than money.
posted by Salamandrous at 5:14 PM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

On the one hand, you have an emotional concern to deal with, and you likely have a lot of grieving left to do. It is necessary for you to go through this process, however that manifests for you. I am very sorry for your loss.

On the other hand, you have a financial concern, which you are conflating with your emotional concern (due to the source of the money), but which should not be conflated with the emotional concern. The financial concern is simple: what is your property worth (if sold now), what is your property potential worth in the future (if sold later after improvements, or if kept in the family as housing or income property), and whatever the difference in value is, are there other, better uses for that money?

You have a third concern, of course: how you and your husband manage your money as yours, his, or a joint asset. Just remember that this is something more akin to a financial concern than an emotional one, and should be dealt with accordingly. Your post suggests that you have behaved (at times) responsibly with the money, and (at times) irresponsibly, and perhaps you don't trust your husband's judgement right now (rightly or wrongly) for whatever reason (the emotional concern, the yours/his/ours issue, good solid judgement, or something else) -- so I would recommend getting in touch with a financial planner to discuss the current state of your finances (without discussing where the money came from, or your yours/his/ours concerns) and see what kind of solid, non-emotional advice you get.*

*which by the way you are not obligated to act on; this is just to help you baseline what's reasonable and what's not in this circumstance.
posted by davejay at 5:15 PM on November 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

You mentioned the concern about "my money" versus "our money". Would it make you feel better to have a post-nuptial with your husband that specifies who owns that property and who ultimately decides what to with it? Did your husband put any money towards the property or was it solely your inheritance; where I live, a property bought with inheritance does not become "community property" in the marriage.

It just kind of jumped out to me that you wanted to move to the other side of the country "for a few months" when you are still a newlywed. Is everything okay in your marriage? Maybe your husband is resistant to this idea of spending money freely if it means you are effectively separating from him.

I nth the seeing a financial advisor and a counsellor to work through your feelings. Grief is very, very hard. Be gentle on yourself and your husband. Good luck.
posted by saucysault at 5:21 PM on November 10, 2011 [8 favorites]

I too agree that you shouldn't make any big life/financial decisions until you are feeling a little less untethered. That feeling combined with a lot of life stresses starts to seem a little depression-y to me. One of the insidious ways it can manifest is that it will project discontent or happiness from its real source to something else. Well before (or if ever) you get to any kind of classic depression symptoms, you can get those kinds of shifts in your thought processes. You don't notice that you've lost interest in things that used to be important, because they were replaced by some other thing. Sometimes that's just life progress, but sometimes it isn't.

So you are right to be hesitant to make a move on the property. You may well be correct that it was a mistake, or that it was the right thing to do then, but is not longer right. But the desire to sell it might be your subconscious trying to ignore something else and distract you with a big change.

CBT literally changed my life, and all I did was read a book about it. Check it out, it is a great way to be more conscious of the undercurrent of emotion and beliefs and how they affect one's daily life in surprising ways.
posted by gjc at 6:11 PM on November 10, 2011

Do you want to be married? Truly and honestly want to be married?

Part of being married is sometimes prioritizing other needs above your own (his needs, the needs of the marriage, eventually the needs of children, should you have them). Much of what you've written is all about your needs and wants, and it's not just about "my money" vs "his money" nor the issue of what, if anything, to do with the property: quitting your job, starting grad school, quitting school, starting job again, now wanting to quit the job again and spend months with family on the opposite side of the country. And your words in and of themselves don't much consider his point of view. I'm not trying to be dismissive of your own needs and wants, those are important too, and I get that you've had a number of significant life changes in the past few years. I don't know if you need therapy and I don't know what you should do with the property. But it may be time to think long and hard about your marriage and what marriage means to you (and talk about those things with him).
posted by 6550 at 11:17 PM on November 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

You are looking at this as too much of an all or nothing proposition: either I have money or I have land. It is not the case. What you need is to talk to a financial adviser, explain what you need, and figure out ways of leveraging the real estate to satisfy your concerns about cash. You have equity but for some reason you feel like you need liquidity. There is A LOT of fertile ground in between those two things. Your problem is not a marital one, it's a result of blinkered ideas about money. Fix that.
posted by spicynuts at 7:43 AM on November 11, 2011

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