My wife never told me that we're rich. Should I be worried?
April 17, 2022 11:25 AM   Subscribe

My wife and I met in college and fell in love instantly. We've been together for more than a decade, and married for a few years now, and we have a toddler. We've always worked as a great team together and never had any trust issues. We live comfortably but have never really talked about finances, mostly because it's never been an issue; we both do more than pretty well. If you were to look at us, you'd put us firmly in "lower-upper middle class" - we own our modest but nice 3 bedroom house, we have a couple of decent cars, etc. She files the taxes; I've always been happy to leave paperwork like that to her. Imagine my surprise, then, when I happened to read some statements she left on her desk, revealing that very shortly after we met, when her parents died, she inherited nearly $30 million. Am I unhappy with our life? Not at all. Do I think it's a little weird that she's not mentioned this at all, or had it influence our lives in any way? Yeah. How should I feel about this?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (85 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
Maybe she feels weird about it too. Like, was she raised sort of regular-middle-class and then suddenly had $30 million thrust upon her? Was she maybe raised not knowing how wealthy her family was? (I worked in a rich town, that's absolutely a thing.) I could see her not really knowing what to do about it and just shoving it aside and trying not to think about it, especially depending on her feelings about her parents' deaths. Have you asked her?
posted by goodbyewaffles at 11:34 AM on April 17 [16 favorites]


One element of her secret-keeping does show how much she trusts you: you were never asked to execute a pre-nuptial agreement.
posted by carmicha at 11:39 AM on April 17 [72 favorites]


I think it’s a very complicated situation and one that you can work through with the help of a therapist who specializes in super rich people and the unique problems they face. They exist, although I don’t know if any names. I think it’s odd that she never told you and, ultimately, should have been said eventually. However, as someone who has a little more than most but not even a fraction of what your wife has — we’re talking a little extra that enables me to live beyond my lower-middle class income, I’ve had to learn to be very cautious about how and with whom I talk about it. I felt weird about it myself for a long time, too, having been raised quite poor. I think this is totally something you all can work through if you are willing to hear her our and she is willing to be fully honest with herself and you. In a world where to be middle class is increasingly precarious, it’s definitely better than discovering secret debt. I get that it feels perhaps like a bad secret but I feel it’s a unique situation and something that can likely be positively solved with good communication and love. But that’s me and I know many may feel differently. I hope you can find clarity and peace!
posted by smorgasbord at 11:44 AM on April 17 [4 favorites]


One element of her secret-keeping does show how much she trusts you: you were never asked to execute a pre-nuptial agreement.

Kinda true but also--and this is very very complicated legally and very location-specific--in many cases, inherited funds that aren't mingled with marital funds aren't marital property, meaning that a prenuptual agreement would not necessarily be required to keep the $30mm to the side.

I would personally be incredibly angry about this level of secrecy, because of the shared child. It's one thing to not tell a partner or spouse about this kind of money. It's another thing to leave them in the dark about something that could have such a huge impact on a shared child.

It's understandable to keep a secret like this until you know someone is with you for you, and not your money. Keeping the secret after a marriage and after having a kid together is something I would have a very difficult time moving past.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 11:47 AM on April 17 [46 favorites]


Also, maybe an example will explain better why I'd be angry.

Assume your child had a medical or developmental issue pop up.

Let's say insurance covers therapy three times a week with an okay provider. This will probably be okay, but not ideal.

The doctor says that, ideally, your child would get therapy five times a week at an expensive specialized center. One of you would need to take off of work to drive the child back and forth, or you'd need to hire a nanny with specialized experience to help do the driving.

Money matters a lot when you have to make decisions like this. It's not fair for her to be the only one who is aware that you could absolutely afford the second option. You can be as frugal as you want when it's only you. Once a child comes into the picture, the calculus changes, and the other parent should know what resources are available for their child.

Even something as basic as "I've inherited some money from my parents. I really don't want us to touch it unless it's a dire emergency. I hope you understand." would have gone a long way towards treating you like a team.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 11:57 AM on April 17 [37 favorites]


My wife never told me that we're rich

No, she's rich. That's her money, and her decision what to do with it and when/whether to disclose it.

Money can intersect with emotions, family and spousal relationships in weird ways. As goodbyewaffles suggests, she may not have felt able to deal with it. She may simply not wish to visit the weirdness on you. She may have felt that if you knew about it, it would wreck your relationship.

(If the inheritance came "soon after you met", I can absolutely see why one wouldn't tell a new SO about it. For the rest of your relationship, she would wonder if you were staying with her for her money. Perhaps that still worries her.)

The money may also be tied up with the memory of her parents. She gained it when she lost them; she may still see it as somehow theirs, and feel reluctant to spend it, or to have someone else want to spend it or make decisions about it.

Did the statements make clear whether she still has the money? One reason I could see for not telling one's SO about something like this would be if she has decided to give it to charity, or distribute it among her family members. She has the right to decide that; the funds are hers.

Money can change people. She's already used to living with it (whether or not she's dealt with it particularly well). The question is: now that you know, if she decides that the funds should be held in common between you-- what is it going to do to you?

Please contemplate that last before you broach the subject with her.
posted by Pallas Athena at 11:59 AM on April 17 [27 favorites]


I have a friend who is in he process of unexpectedly inheriting what looks to be a significant fraction of what your wife has. Outside of his immediate family, I think I am the only person he has told, and I'm not sure how much he has actually told his family. It's bringing up all kinds of weird and strong feelings for him, including that he doesn't feel like he can tell almost anyone. So while I would think it a bit weird that your wife hasn't ever mentioned anything, I can also see how it would feel like something she can't really talk about, and the longer it goes without saying anything, the harder it is to say something.

I do think you should say something (e.g., "hey, I was moving some papers around and noticed this. I'd like to discuss it when you are ready.") because the only thing weirder than her never saying anything would be if you knew, but never admitted to knowing.

You are downplaying your own lifestyle btw. “A couple” of “decent” cars, homeownership like it’s no big whoop, you live “comfortably.” Everyone knows “comfortable” is rich person code for rich. So it’s a bit hypocritical for you to fault her for downplaying wealth when you do the same.

For what it is worth, I don't think the OP is downplaying their situation at all -- they labeled their situation (prior to knowing about the inheritance) as a the lower end of the upper middle class, which fits with the description. The upper middle class is typically going to own houses, own cars, etc.; there's a lot of overlap between what the upper middle class considers "comfortable" and those lower on the wealth spectrum might consider "rich," but there is a huge gulf between the upper middle class and people who, say, have $30 million in investments.
posted by Dip Flash at 12:01 PM on April 17 [46 favorites]


I would feel more than a little odd about it, but it's the kind of thing that you're going to just have to talk about it with her and see what happens. It could be that she hasn't really addressed it herself, but as above now that you have a kid it has to at least be discussed. If you feel like a team, I would go in with that position. I think that what you put here is worth communicating - that you are happy with how things are, that nothing needs to change, but that you'd like to discuss it.

(Also I don't think that you're downplaying your own lifestyle, but that's a derail. The difference between where you are now and having 30M is so, so, vast that it doesn't really matter for your question.)
posted by true at 12:03 PM on April 17 [5 favorites]


I would feel extremely weird about it, but I also agree with the above posters -- you're not rich. She's rich. Until she tells you otherwise and fills out some paperwork to reflect it.

The big issue here for me would be that your child is also going to be rich, and that is very important information for you to have when making parenting decisions. Your partner keeping this from you makes it very tough for you to make appropriate choices involving your child.
posted by Jairus at 12:05 PM on April 17 [8 favorites]


The best advice I can give you is to talk to your wife, and consider counseling.

While it's common for one person in a couple to take the lead on managing finances, it's clear this dynamic has been taken to an unhealthy extreme.

For your part, you seem rather willfully blind and disinterested, until this very huge thing happened.

But do you know what these funds even are? Are they even hers to spend (or share)?
posted by champers at 12:05 PM on April 17 [8 favorites]


For me, I think the first priority would be for you to make it as safe as possible for your wife to talk to you about this. This means bringing it up a way that is supportive and curious to understand with no resentment, demands or expectations about how she should respond.

This is super hard to do - I think coming here and getting input from others and giving yourself time to process what it means before you bring it up with her was a great idea. This also gives you time to think about what it means that this is her money (not your money or our money) and may even have strings attached - either legally or emotionally. So, the best thing for now is to assume that the money is not going to be spent during your lifetime until you find out more.

When you feel ready, I might start by telling her, "i want to let you know I saw these papers about the money. At some point, not today, I would like to know more about it and what it means to you. But I mostly wanted to let you know that I know so you don't have to keep it a secret." Then let it drop - for at least a month. (ideally until she brings it up but I know that can be hard) If you do bring it up later, make sure you are clear that you just want to understand what she is thinking. Do not have any expectations for when/if/how the money should ever be spent.

Somewhere down the road there may a time when you have strong feelings about how she should be spending her money. Those can be extraordinarily stressful conversations. The more you understand her perspective, the better equipped you will be to share your perspective while keep a focus on the big picture (things like respecting her autonomy, the difference between emotional fairness and the law and how to protect a good marriage from the strain of the disagreement). I hope this money turns out to be blessing and not a curse for all of you.
posted by metahawk at 12:25 PM on April 17 [27 favorites]


I think you're kinda underreacting here. $30 MILLION!?!?!? THIRTY MILLION DOLLARS?! This is an absolutely cuckoo bananas secret to have! You're like, going to work????? When your wife has $30 million? You never discussed money when you bought your house or cars? None of this EVER came up ever? What else don't you talk about? This is crazypants neon flashing lights WTF territory that speaks to an astounding distance between two people.
posted by Charity Garfein at 12:34 PM on April 17 [163 favorites]


I don't really understand how you can "never talk about finances" and also own a house together! Like, how did you decide how much to spend on the house? Do you even know who holds your mortgage? And wow, you've really never talked through tax issues together? I guess you both wanted to avoid talking about it, but this is pretty extreme!

That said, 1) I would feel pretty weird and lied to/betrayed in this situation BUT 2) I'm also willing to cut your wife a lot of slack - she inherited this money when she was quite young, and I can totally understand not wanting to tell a college boyfriend/girlfriend about this kind of money. And then a few years pass and you're marrying that college SO and buying a house and having a kid and OMG how can you tell them now, you've hidden it for so long it's so awkward and wrong! But just not talking about it was *never* a good idea once you got serious, and you can't go on this way.

I think Dip Flash's script ("hey, I was moving some papers around and noticed this. I'd like to discuss it when you are ready.") is a good idea. Also there is such a thing as a financial therapist (FWIW only some of these people are, like, *licensed* therapists, so you might want to get just a regular ol' couples therapist too) and I think this is kind of exactly the sort of situation they deal with.
posted by mskyle at 12:35 PM on April 17 [15 favorites]


This would upset me too, and I think you have a right to express that - of course being measured, calm, and collected about it. I mean, like one poster just said, 30 MILLION DOLLARS!!! And you've been together for over a decade, own a house together, have a child, and this has never come up??!!? I think some people here aren't giving you enough credit for how hard this would be to wrap one's mind around - it's mind boggling to me, and I'm just an Internet stranger!

I mean yes, people are allowed to keep finances separate, but part of being partners in life is planning for the future- retirement, attitudes towards paying for your kid's college, etc.

Like, this is dysfunctional enough that I think the best thing to do is not to try to talk about it with your wife, but to request that you book at least a few sessions with either a wealth therapist (for the mega-rich) or a financial therapist (specializes in the emotional dimension of money).

Relatedly, you may enjoy listening to the Death, Sex, and Money podcast's episodes on financial therapy, to get a sense of how it works.
posted by coffeecat at 12:44 PM on April 17 [18 favorites]


Long time married person in an economic situation similar to years. On her parents death a few years ago my wife inherited (what was for us) a significant amount of money. On some level nothing has changed from an economic perspective. The one observable change has been a subtle shift in the balance of power between us. Often I find myself deferring to her about financial decisions and to me it feels slightly awkward when I know we are spending her money not ours.

These are slightly difficult things to think about and to talk about. Occasionally I find myself thinking I wish I hadn't known about the money. Perhaps your wife has not been open about the money in order to preserve the relationship status quo and the family democracy pattern. I can almost guarantee that when you start talking about it, your current relationship pattern will change.
posted by Xurando at 12:47 PM on April 17 [16 favorites]


Before you go too crazy I would make sure she actually has the money. Inheritance can be challenged in many ways and it’s possible she hasn’t told you because there’s a good chance that it’s not going to come through.

Alternatively if it has come through very recently then she may be saving it as a surprise for an upcoming occasion.

I’m a little confused about the overall situation. Presumably you knew her parents had a lot of money and that they died. Did the topic just never come up?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:51 PM on April 17 [9 favorites]


I concur that the most likely cause was not wanting to influence a nascent relationship and that the secret became harder to reveal as time went on.

Are you paying a mortgage to keep up the illusion of this money not being there? Are there less stresses in your respective lives that you could be avoiding? That's the issue in my mind, that every decision you've made together would have to be now viewed in the lens of "how would this have been different if this was shared with me" That's something that's going to fester if it isn't addressed.

You have every right to feel weird and the responses focusing on the OP being in denial about the wealth they had before they discovered the 30mil are irrelevant and not helpful.
posted by Ferreous at 12:52 PM on April 17 [6 favorites]


Yeah, I think it's weird. Vast hereditary wealth is an absolute mind-fuck, and I don't blame her for hiding it from absolutely everyone but you. But she's married to you. I don't think people should keep that kind of secret from their spouses.

Have you talked at all about planning for retirement? Saving for your kid's college education? I'm having a hard time envisioning a normal lower-upper-middle-class existence where this wouldn't be relevant.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:52 PM on April 17 [18 favorites]


your life together is comfortable and loving. You both work at jobs that aren't torture, yes? Your household and your child have what you need to be safe and comfortable? You feel like equals in terms of decision making and what you bring to the table?

All of that can change overnight with the injection of this kind of money.

I would bring it up to your wife, because now you know, and you can't unknow it. But I wouldn't be angry, and I definitely wouldn't cop an entitled attitude. Whatever or wherever that money is, it isn't yours. I would ask, first, what the story actually was with that money. Is it still available to her? If so, how does she feel about it, and what does she intend to do with it? And listen. I would not ask "why didn't you tell me" because there's no way to go there that leads anywhere good.

At the end of the day, I would hope the money would be available to be a safety net for your family; and maybe it's something that can be used to enhance your life together in the nearer term - more travel, better schools for your kid, earlier retirement, things like that - but first see where she's at.
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:57 PM on April 17 [14 favorites]


What a surprise.

There are probably some people in your wife's life that it might be good for you to know about. Financial advisors, money managers, lawyers of various stripes, the people who handle trust(s), random bankers. You'll need to know who they are and what they do, even if she continues to handle the family's financial affairs, in case of [terrible disaster].

Have you not had wills written? POA. Revocable trusts? Please address this, if it's not come up.
posted by xaryts at 1:00 PM on April 17 [12 favorites]


How should I feel about this?
There has to be a pretty unique set of circumstances that had to line up for this to happen that no doubt influenced each other. So, if you want to be fair to your wife & treat her like a human being, it's only fair to find out what these circumstances *actually are* before you decide how you feel about them.

Especially don't let strangers who know less about this than anyone tell you how to feel about something you have no facts about. I'm not saying that's happening as I haven't read the whole thread. That's just my general advice.
posted by bleep at 1:07 PM on April 17 [11 favorites]


This is a big deal, and you're entitled to have strong feelings about it. I just want to put together what jumped out at me: you say that you met your wife in college, and that her parents died "very shortly" after you met. So she was incredibly young, just starting to navigate independence and a life away from home, just starting to date a new person, and suddenly lost both of her parents? That's incredibly hard. I can't imagine what that must have been like for her. Figuring out what to do about her inheritance would have been a complicated problem under normal circumstances, but in her situation, I think she should get a lot of compassion and understanding, even if you wish she had handled it differently. I wouldn't be surprised if the initial decision not to say anything about it (and it may not have been a decision so much as indecision) turned into discomfort as time passed and the secret became harder and harder to explain.

I would consider whether this might be a topic that got tangled up with grief for her. That's not at all to say you shouldn't bring it up - you should, and you've gotten some good ideas for how to have that conversation. I just mean that it may be that when you bring it up, she might feel not just embarrassment/discomfort/whatever else, but also grief/loss/helplessness.

Obviously, I think approaching this with compassion and understanding towards her is the best path, but of course also encourage you to have compassion for yourself. She's your life partner and you've placed a lot of trust in her. You're allowed to feel however you feel - you can both have strong feelings, and as long as you continue to treat one another with love alongside the anger or whatever, you can survive that. One doesn't have to defer to the other.
posted by prefpara at 1:11 PM on April 17 [16 favorites]


A few folks have said that the lifestyle you already had counts as "wealthy", and in global terms that's true, but I'd concur that this kind of money is fundamentally lifestyle-changing, and 8 digits worth of personal wealth moves you from barely in the lower echelon of the upper class to potentially never having to worry about money at all unless you acquire expensive habits*. This is pretty significant and you are allowed to be a bit distressed by (or happy about, or both, in some mixture!) this suddenly being part of your life. I'd give your wife a fair chance to discuss this with you; I doubt she's been maliciously concealing her wealth, and if you have a good relationship otherwise, hopefully this is forgivable. Money can fuck up relationships, and I'm sure there have been times within your relationship when she couldn't easily put this forward without it overshadowing everything else about her. Hell, it's a pretty big thing now, even though you've had time to develop a life together above and beyond money! So I'd err on the side of compassion in realizing how awkward this might be for her.

*Some day, I'd like someone to report on how people at every level of personal wealth live --- what they worry about, what they don't, what they aspire to, what sort of hard choices they make that are financially motivated --- with some sensible scheme like considering representative net worths (or incomes, or some sort of metric of 'available funds") on an exponential scale. Come up with a profile of someone whose total wealth (measured by some metric) is $1000, then $2000, then $4000, then $8000, etc. I think a lot of us have only a very sketchy idea of how people more than one order of magnitude away from ourselves in wealth really live.
posted by jackbishop at 1:13 PM on April 17 [7 favorites]


Some day, I'd like someone to report on how people at every level of personal wealth live

It is extremely location dependent. The OPs self-description is perfectly reasonable if they live in the Silicon Valley for example.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 1:22 PM on April 17 [1 favorite]


She probably also has a will you may not have seen.

How much of that money would come to you and your child is something you can’t know in advance, but I think the terms will have an influence on how you feel going forward, and you might want to explore your own emotions in depth right now so as not to overreact when you do find out what those terms are.
posted by jamjam at 1:26 PM on April 17


So, if you want to be fair to your wife & treat her like a human being, it's only fair to find out what these circumstances *actually are* before you decide how you feel about them.

Quoting bleep for emphasis. There's no real answer to "how should I feel" without more information than a cursory glance at some paperwork.

Talk to your wife about this before you do anything else. Let her explain what's going on. There are a ton of possibilities here that you might not know about -- which you might want to know about. It might be, as others have pointed out, something that won't actually influence your life at all. But you won't know until you actually talk to your partner of over a decade.
posted by fight or flight at 1:42 PM on April 17 [5 favorites]


Definitely talk to your wife.

In my relationship, we do talk about money and we have all shared accounts (other than retirement accounts, but we share information about them.) We're on the far end that way for sure. But honestly...if I inherited $30 million I cannot imagine not telling my husband about it. He's my best friend!

We have so much we want to do together in life. It would be extremely weird not to share about it. I tell him when the grocery store makes a mistake and I get free tomatoes!

But the same would go for you. Go tell your wife what you saw, without assumptions, and enjoy sharing together.
posted by warriorqueen at 1:53 PM on April 17 [4 favorites]


When my kids were little and I was a divorced parent, sometimes I would buy a lottery ticket and think about what it would be like if I won. By the end of the day I was pretty sure it would ruin our lives. Someone made a comment above wondering why the poster is still even working. Fears like that may be behind this, maybe she suspected it would bring on a constant fight about lifestyle that she didn't want to have.
posted by InkaLomax at 1:54 PM on April 17 [8 favorites]


She files the taxes; I've always been happy to leave paperwork like that to her.

I'm super confused. If you're filing jointly, and it sounds like you are, you would have signed the return. The interest income from $30M (or whatever portion of it that's in the bank and isn't directly invested) would be enormous, so you would have seen an unexpectedly large final number when you signed.

People go to prison for unreported income. You're a complete stranger to me and I'm absolutely alarmed and worried for you.
posted by mochapickle at 2:17 PM on April 17 [21 favorites]


Somebody upthread corrected the phrase "my wife didn't tell me we're rich" by saying, "No, SHE's rich." Respectfully, that is IMO a bizarre way of understanding marriage. If you are buying houses and raising children and facing the inevitable prospects of aging and decline and health care needs and so on, it is not okay for one partner to have a vast sum of money that is a secret from the other partner. If your partner could or would say 'sorry, I'm rich, you're not' then they're not your partner. I realize that wasn't said by you or your wife, and I'm not trying to misattribute the comment, but I think it should be explicitly stated. Anybody in America who gets through their sixth or seventh decade of life without having ruinous medical expenses is very fortunate, and when you get to that point it'll be a bad time to discover that you're married to someone who thinks all your money is theirs, but all their money is not yours. If that's the way it is, it seems to me you would do well to figure it out now.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 2:21 PM on April 17 [29 favorites]


There are many, many people who have inherited wealth who view it as, essentially, an insurance policy for a catastrophic event that has (despite the absence of a catastrophe) already paid off. An independently wealthy client of mine is like this — once, when he was complaining at some length about some workplace drama he was enduring, I said “Maybe I’m missing something, but you could just quit your job anytime you want to, right?” I’ve never forgotten his response: “That’s not an option: can you imagine what it would do to my work ethic?” Um, OK. Some people would just prefer to think of themselves as constrained by the resources they have acquired professionally. I’m not sure this is all that rational, but it is common and understandable. And, second, there is an unpleasant lesson that many must learn from experience who are worth much less than $30m: people treat you differently when they know you have wealth. It’s quite possible that your wife has decided that, in some respects, pretending this inheritance never existed is the best option. That’s not a defense of her ethical choices, but — again — it’s understandable.

If I were you, I’d consider something low-pressure along the lines of: “Beloved, could we sit down this weekend, take a look at our earnings and assets and investments, and make sure you and I are both on the same page with our future financial plans?” I think it’s possible that the two of you have never had such a talk (a talk that implies more or less complete financial transparency between partners). I think it’s a kind of communication that most or all married people should have. One reason this is a good idea is that it will address *many* more problems than just the one posed here.
posted by PaulVario at 2:25 PM on April 17 [4 favorites]


Approach this very slowly and carefully, because this is a very big thing and it can go very wrong in many different ways. History is a weapon's advice is right: a strong dose of reflexive chilll is your best ally here. Your wife has been not telling you for a reason, and it's fair to ask what that is, and start having conversations about what it all means (if anything -- maybe she was somehow prevented from actually inheriting it, or lost it all, or owes massive back taxes, or locked it in a trust for the kids, or whatever); but don't jump to any other conclusions or actions yet. Ask, discuss, work through further implications carefully and slowly.
posted by ead at 2:27 PM on April 17 [7 favorites]


1) Make sure you actually saw what you think you saw.

2) Get a couples therapist and possibly get a lawyer. I'm not married but if anyone who was close to me lied to me about something of this magnitude I'm not sure I'd ever be able to trust them again.
posted by coffeeand at 2:33 PM on April 17 [7 favorites]


I agree with what others have said; you need to talk to your wife. And not just about the money. Honestly, to me, the money is beside the point. From your post, it would appear that you and your wife aren't communicating as well as you should be in a healthy marriage.

I wish you well, guy.
posted by Stuka at 2:44 PM on April 17 [6 favorites]


>> She files the taxes; I've always been happy to leave paperwork like that to her.

> I'm super confused. If you're filing jointly, and it sounds like you are, you would have signed the return. The interest income from $30M (or whatever portion of it that's in the bank and isn't directly invested) would be enormous, so you would have seen an unexpectedly large final number when you signed.


I wouldn't panic about this one, OP: the money may be wrapped up in some kind of a trust or other legal arrangement where taxes on that income are separate from your personal taxes. Or it's held entirely in tax free bonds, or etc. etc. etc. (And basically, if it's in an account with normal things like statements, someone is paying the taxes, because copies of any 1099s are going straight to the IRS.)
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 2:50 PM on April 17 [9 favorites]


The money may be in a trust for the benefit of the wife. That would explain a lot - i.e., she does not have $30M that she can readily access whenever she wants, it isn't part of their taxes (except for whatever distributions she's receiving), and it isn't martial property. Somebody else is managing it and making it available to her (or not) according to some kind of parameters set up in the trust.

I may be too negative/cynical but I think there is likely a connection between the OP's apparent cluelessness with money (sorry) and the wife's reluctance to share this information. It is very weird that you have "never really talked about finances" but you bought a house together. Assuming there is a mortgage (it would be kind of a tipoff if there wasn't one!), you had to go through a whole underwriting process with the bank for your mortgage that involved disclosing your income, assets, etc. - how do you not "talk about finances" during the process of buying a house? And taxes aren't "paperwork"! The statement that you're "happy to leave paperwork like that to her" makes me think you are checked out on all things financial and not an equal partner when it comes to money/finances in the relationship.

The happy version, I think, is that your wife does not want to disturb your happy relationship with unnecessary complication about her money (i.e., blissful ignorance). But the less happy version is that your wife thinks you are clueless when it comes to money (that's sort of how the post reads) and she isn't sure you will handle the knowledge of the $30 million in a responsible/mature way and/or she does not view you as an equal partner with respect to money in the relationship.
posted by Mid at 2:53 PM on April 17 [45 favorites]


i would feel betrayed by this and want an explanation, but it’s not marriage ending. most likely she hasn’t really come to terms with it herself. it’s a life changing amount of money and she probably didn’t want life to change. it would drive me mad to know that all this time i could have afforded literally anything i ever wanted, but i also grew up pinching every penny and have had no parental financial support since i was about 17. if you lived most of your life with a running total of your bank balance in your head at all times, down to the penny, finding out that in fact you could have just let that all go and just EXHALED would be a shock. but again that might be her thought as well : what will happen when you realize that there’s all this damn money. you won the lottery without even playing, and lottery winners don’t often have happy lives. anyway i’d approach this carefully and sensitively, i suspect it’s not something that she feels comfortable about herself
posted by dis_integration at 2:56 PM on April 17 [2 favorites]


I really admire what your wife has done. She obviously is aware of the many, many problems that wealth brings to personal relationships and has decided that she wants to live as if she doesn’t have it—and then she has followed through. If she’s had it for this many years then there have been many problems it would have solved that either went unsolved or got solved the hard way. Many things she wanted but refrained from buying. It’s impressive! Whichever way she went with it, it was going to cause problems, and this is the way she chose so now this is the problem it’s caused. Is it weird? Yeah but she alone bore the burden of the weirdness out of the desire to protect your relationship. You have a happy life. This money is going to fuck it up a little now. I think if you can accept that this is her money and respect her autonomy and strength of character that will be your best chance of keeping things together.
posted by HotToddy at 2:58 PM on April 17 [7 favorites]


I don't think it's that weird but I'm a recovering heiress so my views are skewed. (If I had inherited, I would not have told my husband in any details because money fucks EVERYTHING up and I 100% refuse to have that imbalance of power in my marriage. On the other hand I did get disowned so maybe that proves I'm a terrible person but also maybe proves my point.)

ANYWAY the point I popped in to add was the fact that this has never come up and that you didn't know these funds existed, amounts aside, indicates to me that you and your wife have not made wills or done estate planning. As people with a child, this is wildly irresponsible. If you have indeed not made wills and jointly mode provisions for the care of your daughter, specifically a trust, please do that urgently.

On the other hand if your wife has created a trust for your child without telling you, I would really, really have a problem with that. The amount of money and the trust absolutely influences who you jointly leave the care of your daughter to.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:04 PM on April 17 [16 favorites]


just to emphasize, to me this is the flipside of the discussion i had with my wife before we got married : that i had defaulted on my student loans and gone into collections for medical debt so if we got married my credit would drag hers down for at least the next 7 years. and it was true, we didn’t qualify for a mortgage until my delinquencies were cleared from the credit report. keeping that a secret would have been a betrayal, just like hiding immense wealth would have been
posted by dis_integration at 3:04 PM on April 17 [9 favorites]


Agree more or less with Blue Jello Elf: it’s certainly possible to own (for example) $30m of stocks that never have or create any tax implications until they’re sold — even if they’re held/owned by the same person for decades.

One of my clients had an experience on a much smaller level with the transmission of familial wealth: she discovered, upon the death of her father a few years ago, thousands of dollars in redeemable US bonds in a safe deposit box. The bonds had been purchased in the mid-1950s and had achieved maximum maturation in the Reagan Administration. Again, this stuff has zero tax implications until cash-in.

I also agree that there is a strong possibility that these are trust assets. That means that she doesn’t have complete control over them and that they aren’t really hers: conceivably, the assets must be spent for her benefit, but she isn’t the one who gets to make the decision about what would benefit her or not.

I hope the OP appreciates that (even though this type of situation is an amazing gift for his wife) it comes with some difficulties and burdens. This is true even if these difficulties and burdens would be happily borne by any reader of this page.
posted by PaulVario at 3:06 PM on April 17 [4 favorites]


The very first piece of advice for handling a large financial windfall is usually to tell nobody about it. You can find this advice in the /r/personalfinance wiki and the Bogleheads wiki, for example. There are very good reasons for this. Even much smaller amounts of money can wreak havoc on relationships.

A spouse would normally be an exception to this rule, but it sounds like you weren’t married at the time of the inheritance. I do think this is a conversation you need to have now, but I hope this helps to partly explain why your wife might have had a hard time disclosing it earlier.

(As an aside, those links have some resources that may be useful for you in finding ways to handle your own feelings/thoughts about the money, beyond the relationship aspect.)
posted by mbrubeck at 3:09 PM on April 17 [6 favorites]


Three more things and then I’ll shut up:

@DarlingBri: if the money’s already in a trust for OP’s wife, the trust document that created it may pass the remainder of the inheritance not consumed by OP’s wife down to OP’s wife’s offspring. This would be extremely, extremely standard. So not having a trust for the kid at this point isn’t exactly alarming.

More generally, a few of the offhand remarks above — the ones that imply that now you can afford to buy whatever you want, etc. — suggest to me that staying close-mouthed about assets, even within marriage, is not exactly praiseworthy but nonetheless very understandable.

This is not a crisis that demands therapeutic intervention. It is a flashing yellow light that suggests a measured change in behavior is probably appropriate.
posted by PaulVario at 3:23 PM on April 17 [9 favorites]


in all seriousness — in at least some seriousness — do you think it is possible she simply forgot she never told you? because of course, OF COURSE she didn’t tell you right when it happened and would have been a self-destructive fool to have done so (a. you weren’t a committed couple then, and b. her parents had just died). so she did the only prudent thing at the time, and then years passed. some people are just not built to be capable of this kind of forgetfulness, but not everyone is some people.

it would have been natural and normal for her to have told you when you got married. but then, it would also have been natural and normal for you, who were not independently set for life, to have paid any attention at all to the family finances, you have an obligation to know about this stuff whether you’re financially dependent or not. I mean I would assume this money of hers isn’t in the joint account, but the way you present it maybe I shouldn’t assume anything of the kind. do you have any joint accounts? more to the point, do you know if you have any joint accounts?

anyway you do at least look over the tax returns she prepares for the two of you, even if you never do them? letting the spouse handle all the family money work & paperwork is not abnormal but it is not supposed to be an excuse for not paying any attention to it. I’m not sure I would agree that she has kept massive financial secrets unless you have actually asked her any specific marital financial questions, ever. though perhaps you have.
posted by queenofbithynia at 3:29 PM on April 17 [3 favorites]


Ask a question about money, you can expect answers from every end of the bell curve. People's responses will be based on how they perceive money and how they feel it should be used, distributed, inherited, viewed, given away, saved or spent, etc. The point is, money is an especially volatile subject that will elicit strong reactions.

What matters is how you feel about it, and how you feel this will affect your relationship with your partner, moving forward. We can all offer our (vociferous) opinions here, but in the end, only you can decide how to proceed. Other people's opinions provide perspective, maybe, but you have to decide for yourself what this discovery means for you.
posted by Crystal Fox at 3:29 PM on April 17 [10 favorites]


> I'm super confused. If you're filing jointly, and it sounds like you are, you would have signed the return.

I do the taxes for our household and I do them online. My husband doesn't need to sign anything and hasn't ever looked at any of our annual returns since I started doing them. (I am not a secret heiress, alas.)

This does seem like a breach of trust, but maybe an understandable, and hopefully forgivable, one. I'd broach the subject using one of the light-touch scripts suggested above. She may be defensive when you bring it up, but she may be relieved, eventually, to have it in the open.
posted by merriment at 3:33 PM on April 17 [16 favorites]


There are all kinds of complicated things that may or may not be happening, but one thing you KNOW is happening is you saw some documents that give you good reason to believe your wife has enormous funds she has never mentioned to you. In that position, I would feel lots of strong and confused emotions, and I would definitely need to talk about it with my wife. A script to try, after the kid is asleep and you are both calm:

"Honey, I need to check in with you about something. I noticed the documents on your desk about an inheritance. I was really surprised. Can we make time this week to talk about this?"

I would anticipate this introducing a lot of stress to the relationship while you both adjust to the reality that you know this information, a reality around which you both will have new needs (your need to learn more, perhaps a desire to be more involved in decision making about the money; her desire for autonomy, privacy, or whatever else is driving her behaviors) so I suggest considering doing some of this with a couples therapist.
posted by latkes at 3:40 PM on April 17 [4 favorites]


So, I am a therapist, obviously not yours, but I do work with clients on this stuff, and I do draw on my own rather ridiculous experience, in that I’ve been in your wife’s place.

I’m also She Who Does the Finances because this is the Way in my husband’s culture, and I don’t mind it. So I believe you when you say well, I don’t know this stuff.

I decided to be totally transparent with my DH about the implications of finances vis a vis my family, forcibly so because I felt it was important. But he wanted to Not Know. I wonder if maybe you give off the same vibes, given what sounds like unfamiliarity with your family finances. Sometimes people leave paperwork out to “tell a secret” in a gentle way if they don’t know another way.

A couple suggestions for you:
1) $30 mil or any trust thereof can disappear in a heartbeat. Never look on money as too big to fail. If you don’t treat it as a finite object, it will vanish.
2) Share that you noticed the paperwork. Ask if she wants to talk about it. Focus on being supportive. Money is a lot of things, but in families, it’s never “just” money.
3) Money is a resource. It is a means. For some families, it is weakness, it’s a bulls eye, it is love. It has some fucked up baggage.
posted by executive_dysfuncti0n at 3:54 PM on April 17 [25 favorites]


That's super wild - the first thing you should ask is why did you pay for anything the last 10 years? Did you buy half the house? Do you love your work so much you would do it every day regardless of whether you had to or not? How did you not know your wife's parents were so wealthy? I have more questions than answers, I have to imagine there is some chasm of communication you all have - maybe it works for you, but I think you gotta talk about this right quick.

Also, for everyone framing it as some understandable, money is funny, forgot to tell you, maybe there's some tough issue, challenging thing - no. Hiding that amount of wealth is obscene.
posted by RajahKing at 4:03 PM on April 17 [14 favorites]


I tend to fall in with those who speculate that whatever funds there are, exist in some kind of trust. If you had that amount of money with a brokerage account, it would be hard not to get mail about it from time to time-- and communications, too, from people who got wind that you had it, trying to solicit you about it. Yes the accounts could be all online but you would still run across stuff related to it eventually.

It's impossible to guess from here why she would have that kind of money, or even a fraction of it, and not bring it up with you. It doesn't have to be anything sinister. My mother came from fairly substantial wealth but it was a traumatic thing for her. Inheritance had torn her family apart and turned people into jerks. While she used the money to pay our family's expenses, she chose to pay very specific bills every year and not to engage in discussion about it. Other people I know are adamant about living within their income from work. It may be that something like this is driving her secrecy. I would ask her about what you saw but be ready to respect that she may have reasons to want (or need) to live just as you have been.
posted by BibiRose at 4:34 PM on April 17 [7 favorites]


Agreed that it's most likely in some form of a trust. Even conservatively invested, that kind of money could net 1.5 million a year in INTEREST alone without dipping into the principal. That's definitely something to think about. I can understand her not wanting to dip into the principal, but with that passive income it would be possible to live a very, very nice lifestyle and maybe just do some volunteer work or something to stay engaged with the world. She's deprived you of knowing that this was an option, which feels a bit unfair. At this point, all you can do is bring up the topic delicately and see what happens.
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 4:36 PM on April 17 [4 favorites]


The money may be in a trust for the benefit of the wife… Somebody else is managing it and making it available to her (or not) according to some kind of parameters set up in the trust.

You don’t mention whether your wife has siblings (or others who might have also inherited substantial amounts from her parents). In one wing of my family, the wealthy parents saddled all of their children with draconian trusts that are extremely difficult to tap because one child was an irresponsible spendthrift. That kid schemes to wrest as much $ as possible out of their trust while the rest ignore their trusts all together: the money is too hard to access and they don’t depend on it anyway because they saved throughout their lives (and were, admittedly, fortunate as well). For these kids, the money might as well not exist (and the trusts pay taxes as independent entities).
posted by carmicha at 4:57 PM on April 17 [11 favorites]


As another immediate family member of someone who could have passed down immense wealth under the right circumstances, I would not know how to talk to my partner about it. It changes everything. I probably would have done the same as your wife if it had happened early on in my relationship. That doesn't mean I have a bad relationship with my partner or that I don't trust them or want it to be a secret. As someone who has seen the really nasty downsides of weather close up, I just wouldn't want my life to change.
posted by coldbabyshrimp at 6:34 PM on April 17 [6 favorites]


I think it is typical to let one person in a couple handle the finances/bill paying/taxes, but your cluelessness is pretty extreme. It makes me think there is way more going on than your "everything is cool" take on your marriage and life. I wonder how close you two really are, and wonder what other things you are happy to not do or not be involved in.

So talk to your wife and find out what is going on. And maybe figure out why you have been so comfortable with being so ignorant.
posted by rhonzo at 6:48 PM on April 17 [5 favorites]


I wonder how close you two really are, and wonder what other things you are happy to not do or not be involved in.

I mean, they're close enough where she let him buy half a house. Without telling him/ (them/her) about any of this. Agree with others saying her gender is skewing everyone's perspective.

Comments suggesting OP is not competent to be involved in the family financial planning smack very strongly of similar attitudes about how poor people should never be given financial assistance because they would 'just spend it on frivolous things.'
posted by coffeeand at 7:08 PM on April 17 [10 favorites]


For years Mr Corpse signed our tax returns without really paying attention. This year he did our taxes for the first time, and I only glanced at them before signing. I think people are reading too much into that one detail. (Or maybe Mr Corpse and I are just a particularly good match.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:50 PM on April 17 [7 favorites]


also agree that there is a strong possibility that these are trust assets.

Count me in to the people saying that people who leave 30 million dollars in inheritance usually have it tied up in a trust. This trust would have likely been designed by the parents, and could have involved conditions that make it more awkward for your wife to talk about.

For example: it happened shortly after you met and before you were committed; a trust could well have been drawn up to protect the money from future spouses. Or at a certain age.
posted by corb at 12:11 AM on April 18 [9 favorites]


Am I unhappy with our life? Not at all. Do I think it's a little weird that she's not mentioned this at all, or had it influence our lives in any way? Yeah. How should I feel about this?

In my experience, a sense of curiosity trumps anger or outrage every single time. As others have suggested (during some unhurried time, when the toddler is in bed or at preschool, and when nobody is hungry or tired or cold or uncomfortable), you should mention that you noticed some financial paperwork that had some surprising figures on it. And then basically say what you said above. You’re not unhappy with your life but it’s a bit weird that she hasn’t mentioned this money. And that you’re not sure how to feel about it without more information. And then let your spouse give you more information. Be patient, be calm, and see what your spouse says. How could you possibly know how to feel about it without other information?
posted by Bella Donna at 3:05 AM on April 18 [7 favorites]


Also, just a reminder: we don’t usually decide how to feel about things. We usually feel our feels and then make a decision about how to act in response.
posted by Bella Donna at 3:07 AM on April 18 [8 favorites]


Wow! Most people already suggested what I think is definitely the first step - calmly letting your wife know what you saw and asking for more information. It's so hard, but I would try to reserve judgment until you fully understand the facts and their implications for you and your child.

If it turns out she does have control over an enormous amount of wealth, I suspect she might feel some shame about it. Maybe she kept it a secret from you because she understands on some level that no one person needs that much money, and hoarding it doesn't benefit anyone. Something for you to keep in your back pocket if she does feel that way is the organization Resource Generation, previously on mefi here. This is NOT for the first conversation by any means, especially not before you have all the facts, but a way down the line to reframe what enormous wealth could mean for her and your family.
posted by prewar lemonade at 6:01 AM on April 18 [2 favorites]


$30m is well into the top 1% in the US (coincidentally, there was a thread last week suggesting $3m is needed to afford old-age assisted care -that's top 2-3% in net worth in the US).

Do you not know any of her family? Did they just win the lotto? It's hard to keep that amount of money hidden, and if they lived like they were middle-class when the yearly interest alone puts them in the top 4% in the US, well amazing kudos to them.

Yes, you should ask about this.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:22 AM on April 18 [1 favorite]


I have a friend whose mother died while my friend was in college. Receiving the small inheritance felt like a horrible consolation prize, and money has felt dirty to her ever since. Maybe your wife has a similar sort of discomfort that has made it very hard to even mention it? Like, she might be trying to forget it exists.
posted by metasarah at 7:46 AM on April 18 [7 favorites]


I have a friend whose mother died while my friend was in college. Receiving the small inheritance felt like a horrible consolation prize, and money has felt dirty to her ever since. Maybe your wife has a similar sort of discomfort that has made it very hard to even mention it? Like, she might be trying to forget it exists.

And given the timeline described in the question (met in college, together over a decade), it's entirely possible the assets were locked up in a trust until she reached a certain age and she only just found out what the total is, and feels super weird and conflicted about it herself.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 7:50 AM on April 18 [7 favorites]


She is rich, you are not. That would be the first thing to remember when talking to her about it, your assumptions that "we're" rich will not be the mindset to approach the conversation with your wife about it. There could be a thousand complicated reasons why she's not told you everything from her parents were abusive and she doesn't want the the money to it's in a trust so she can't access it, to you misread the document, to she inherited it before she knew she would marry you so didn't feel she had to tell you and then it got weird to tell you later on.

I would talk to her about it but you might want to be very careful about how you word your question you're assumption "we" are rich might be the very reason she didn't mention it.
posted by wwax at 8:58 AM on April 18 [8 favorites]


I went through a parallel situation, but it was finding out about my mom's inheritance, not my partner's, when I was in my late-30s. The implications of it trickled out in the weeks afterwards in ways that were surprising to me.

This is what I remember thinking about:

Her decision not to tell my sibling and I blocked us out of knowing about the existence of financial management and the advisors that she consulted with. She couldn't simultaneously keep this quiet and teach us about managing the money we couldn't know she had.

The same went with philanthropy. Her choice made it impossible to teach us about and help us participate in responsible giving.

By growing up honestly thinking that I was a middle-middle class scholarship kid, as opposed to someone living in a household way below their means, it prevented me from fully knowing my mom's values. You don't learn the value of living frugally and below your means if you don't know that you're doing it. You just think you're living your life.

If you going along living your life under what you consider as the socioeconomic 'hand you were dealt,' and then you learn that actually, that horizon of possibility was the result of one human's choices, it can be jarring. In part this is because it makes you readjust your understanding of how powerful another person is in shaping the everyday possibilities and constraints of your life.

And lastly, it can be really confusing to figure out who you can trust to talk about these matters and your response to them. I talked about it with some very close friends who basically looked at me incredulously saying "well, that's a welcome problem to have," which is true from a certain angle, but is also truly a mindfuck. I found another friend to talk to who understood the mindfuck side.

This website has useful readings.
posted by unk gladenboot at 9:20 AM on April 18 [7 favorites]


I'll just add this perspective: My wife doesn't want to bother with finances any more than absolutely necessary, so I take care of most of it. (This isn't lack of ability; in fact, overseeing vast pools of money is her job.) When I asked her how much money she thought we had, her guess was a fifth of the actual. When I told her, her response was basically, "OK, so what?"

Please ask your wife, but try to approach her with no preconceptions. One of many possibilities is that she honestly didn't think you'd be interested. In that scenario, you can tell her your actual preferences and start a discussion about communication within the relationship, but don't assume she was actively hiding the information.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 10:33 AM on April 18 [4 favorites]


Somebody upthread corrected the phrase "my wife didn't tell me we're rich" by saying, "No, SHE's rich." Respectfully, that is IMO a bizarre way of understanding marriage.

Well how nice for you but -- respectfully -- it's probably factually correct.

My (now ex) wife comes from a wealthy family. I knew she had a trust fund of some kind, and access to some investment accounts, but we never really talked about how much was in it; we lived on my income for a couple decades, and vaguely counted on that trust as our retirement.

Then she left, and now I have about ten years left to figure out my own retirement plans from zero. We weren't rich. She was.

(Also we have shared custody but I still get to pay child support to the heiress, because I have an income and all she has is tens of millions of dollars in the bank. So that's nice.)
posted by ook at 12:51 PM on April 18 [9 favorites]


So you guys met in college, and shortly after you met, both of her parents died, and she got this huge sum of money. So she's, what, 23-24 years old when both of her parents died, at the oldest? I can totally understand why someone who loses both of their parents at such a young age would not really view this giant sum of money as some big celebration thing, and maybe has guilt around it wishing that her parents were still around rather than her having all this money, ESPECIALLY if her parents died suddenly and/or at the same time in an accident or something. I'd cut her some slack, assume she's not hiding it from you for some nefarious reason, and use some of the scripts people have suggested to gently ask about it and see what's going on.
posted by jabes at 1:01 PM on April 18 [2 favorites]


So it seems to me you've learned two things:

1) that there is something going on in your wife's finances that you don't know anything about
2) that you're less comfortable with a don't-ask-don't-tell money arrangement than you realized

If not for the eye watering dollar amount that is (potentially!!! cannot stress enough that you actually don't seem to know whether there is significant touchable cash) involved, I would say it's no different really from any other situation involving implicit arrangements and assumptions biting people in the butt.

You had an agreement, informally, where your wife Does the Money and You Don't Know, but deep inside you had the assumption that if there were something big, new, important, you would in fact be brought up to date. That turns out not to be a shared assumption. So, that's okay! You've learned something important.

Folks upthread have had good ideas about how to broach the conversation. But long term, it seems like you need to revisit your hands-off approach to finances now that you've discovered how unsettling a big money surprise can be. Suppose it had been debt! Suppose your wife had died and you realized you couldn't keep your house! Being in the dark about money only works til it doesn't and when it bites you, it can bite real hard. You're lucky that this time, it didn't.

If you got together in college you're still pretty young, and I'm inclined to think this is a more benign situation than a lot of folks above. It's not as though your wife has let you go hungry and wear rags while she hoards a dragon's treasure. It's just time to start talking, and part of that should involve you getting in up to your elbows a bit with your family's finances.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 1:05 PM on April 18 [4 favorites]


I guess you could bring it up indirectly.

"Sweetheart, I'm thinking of quitting my job and starting that self-employed career I've always wanted to do. The only problem is I need a $1 Million investment to get started. Where am I going to find an investor willing to give me that kind of money?"
posted by JJ86 at 1:12 PM on April 18


A lot of people are saying she's rich, you're not rich, but I don't think that's a universal viewpoint or objective fact. In some relationships, yes, finances are kept completely separate and especially things like family money are not factored into joint finances. But there are many marriages where this is not the case. I think the problem I would have with this in your shoes is that you didn't knowingly enter into a marriage where finances were kept separate. In fact, you thought you were in the second kind of marriage, not the first.

At the same time, I agree with many that she probably had a lot of good reasons for keeping this private, and approaching this with a sense of anger/betrayal is not going to help either of you. But I do think you need to ask her about it, because you do know now and this bell can't be unrung. I like some of the responses here that recommend approaching her in a matter-of-fact, curious way. You know so little about this so there's a lot of room for you to find out more.

I do think you are going to need to own your own role in this. It's not unusual to have one person who handles finances, but it is unusual and not really advisable for the other person to be completely in the dark. Especially when you have a kid, a house, etc. It's your responsibility to at least understand the kinds of financial decisions you're making as partners and parents. (With or without a huge fortune involved)
posted by lunasol at 2:06 PM on April 18 [2 favorites]


A lot of people are saying she's rich, you're not rich, but I don't think that's a universal viewpoint or objective fact. In some relationships, yes, finances are kept completely separate and especially things like family money are not factored into joint finances. But there are many marriages where this is not the case.

I'm reading this advice more as "broach the topic as gently as possible, because $30mm is an amount of money a person could easily blow up their marriage over, even without the added emotional complication of your wife's parents' early deaths."
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 3:21 PM on April 18 [8 favorites]


I’m in a similar position to OP’s wife, and maybe it would be helpful to hear a bit about what I deal with, both to better understand her possible circumstances, and to address some of the incorrect comments that have been made in this thread. (I’m a long-term member of the community, but setup a sock puppet because reasons.)

I grew up in a very comfortable, upper middle class lifestyle. My parents both worked and did well, but didn’t splurge. We kept cars for ages. Didn’t take luxurious vacations (maybe a week at the beach in the summer). They saved into a 401K, and they weren’t actively trading stocks (more buy and forget). They talked about the importance of saving every time we spoke about money. I didn’t realize it at the time, but they were the textbook “Millionaire Next Door.”

My parents are not deceased, but will likely be soon given their age and heath. When that happens, my sibling and I will inherit an estate likely in the neighborhood of $10-15M, which we will split evenly.

(For clarity of language, I’m going to write the following as if it’s just for me, but know the details are exactly the same for my sibling.)

When my parent’s last updated their wills, they started the process to place their estate in a trust in order to facilitate the transfer of assets upon their eventual death. That is pretty straightforward as far as estate planning goes – it was done by a single lawyer at a small local firm near where my family lives. That lawyer holds all the documents and records. When my parents die, they will do the work necessary to execute the will, manage or transfer the trust, etc.

As part of doing the estate work, their lawyer required that they meet everyone who will receive part of the inheritance, so they aren’t doing that for the first time in the aftermath of a death. I think that was a smart move. It also ensured that the family had spoken about the general structure of things so there would be no surprises. I suspect, given her parent’s young age when they passed, OP’s wife never had that luxury.

Even if they were to die today, none of the money in the estate is available to me until I reach a certain age (50). There are only three exceptions to that: A total of up to $50,000 can be withdrawn for education-, healthcare-, or housing-related expenses, if necessary. From reading information from estate planners and attorneys, an age-based structure is relatively common these days to ensure younger people don’t get their hands on a lot of money and suffer adverse effects (which are very common with windfalls like lottery winnings, etc.).

I am married and have a family. My spouse knows that I will inherit half my parent’s estate when they die, but has no real idea how much money that will be. If they explicitly asked, I suspect I would give them a ballpark estimate.

There are a number of reasons why that is:

1 – My spouse and I have a good relationship, but I’m as aware as everyone else about how common divorce, etc. is. Just by the numbers, there is a not insignificant chance my spouse and I would dissolve our marriage at some point in the future, which could occur before I have access to the funds.

2 – My spouse made some very poor financial decisions earlier in life, but has done an amazing job sorting things out over the last decade. They’re in a great spot now. That said, they are happy to leave most financial matters to me – retirement planning, taxes, etc. (I am also a capital-P planner, and this suits me well, too.)

3 - You can’t talk about an inheritance without thinking about the fact that you’ve gotten the money – whether it’s $5K or $50M – by losing people you care about. It’s awkward for me, and my parents will be passing away at an advanced age after living a long life – I can’t imagine what that must be like for someone, like OP’s wife, who lost their parents at a young age. Personal finances are emotional in the best of circumstances, and these are the worst of circumstances.

4 – I don’t want it to change anything. My spouse and I have built a great life, we’re comfortable, we save for retirement, we put money away to cover future college expenses, etc. There’s a risk, however slight, that the inherited money would never reach us (parent’s give it away at the last minute, someone swindles the trust, etc.). I am protecting my family by assuming it will never get to us.

I don’t write any of this to discount OP’s reaction to learning what he thinks he learned – we are all entitled to our emotions – but I also suspect this is a significantly more complex situation than some people in this thread are giving it credit to be.

One last thing: There’s a lot of back and forth happening in this thread about “her money” and “their money,” and a lot of the people commenting don’t seem to understand how unique inheritances are in the US legal and financial system. If the money was left to her, it is legally hers. It doesn’t matter if she was single or married when she got it, single or married at a later date, etc. In almost every circumstance, it belongs solely to her in the eyes of the law, unless she takes specific actions to change that (which she likely won’t/can’t do if it is in a trust, and likely won’t do as it comes out of the trust as I believe there are tax implications).

Inheritances aren’t like the car in the driveway or your 401K or anything else that gets viewed by the law as belonging equally to both spouses. In a divorce, it would not be split. If OP applied for a loan on his own, it would not be taken into consideration as an asset. As someone noted upthread, it isn’t taken into consideration when calculating child support. You just can’t talk about inheritances as if they are “theirs” like you can with so many other things – and that is separate from the question of how an individual chooses to manage the money with their spouse.

The best analogy in all of this might be Prince Philip. Elizabeth became Queen because her father died. Her son will some day become King. But Philip – despite being married to her – isn’t and couldn’t ever be.

I want to respond to a few specific comments, in no order:

One element of her secret-keeping does show how much she trusts you: you were never asked to execute a pre-nuptial agreement.

Again, doesn’t matter, because it’s not half his. That said, I think it’s best to assume she’s not thinking about this money at all, and not that she was being “double sneaky” by not doing a pre-nup.

She probably also has a will you may not have seen.

There’s really no reason to assume that. Trusts are structured to handle situations where someone dies – no need for anyone to have a secret will.

I think you're kinda underreacting here. $30 MILLION!?!?!? THIRTY MILLION DOLLARS?! This is an absolutely cuckoo bananas secret to have! You're like, going to work????? When your wife has $30 million? You never discussed money when you bought your house or cars? None of this EVER came up ever? What else don't you talk about? This is crazypants neon flashing lights WTF territory that speaks to an astounding distance between two people.

I don’t think the structure of my parent’s estate is at all unusual. It’s entirely likely that OP’s wife doesn’t have access to the cash, even if she’s aware of the financial state of the trust.

I'm super confused. If you're filing jointly, and it sounds like you are, you would have signed the return. The interest income from $30M (or whatever portion of it that's in the bank and isn't directly invested) would be enormous, so you would have seen an unexpectedly large final number when you signed. People go to prison for unreported income. You're a complete stranger to me and I'm absolutely alarmed and worried for you.

Not how it works. Those funds are, absent almost any doubt in my mind, in a trust. The trust pays taxes on the taxable portions of the money, not the individual. That changes if the money moves from the trust to the individual’s accounts.

Also, invested money doesn’t grow via “interest.”

There are probably some people in your wife's life that it might be good for you to know about. Financial advisors, money managers, lawyers of various stripes, the people who handle trust(s), random bankers. You'll need to know who they are and what they do, even if she continues to handle the family's financial affairs, in case of [terrible disaster].

This is a caricature of what people without a lot of money think people with a lot of money do. $30M? They have almost none of these people. They likely have a single lawyer who is overseeing the trust, and an account representative at one of the big three brokerages who is dedicated to their account, which just means they call once a year and ask how things are going.

Also, maybe an example will explain better why I'd be angry. Assume your child had a medical or developmental issue pop up. Let's say insurance covers therapy three times a week with an okay provider. This will probably be okay, but not ideal. The doctor says that, ideally, your child would get therapy five times a week at an expensive specialized center. One of you would need to take off of work to drive the child back and forth, or you'd need to hire a nanny with specialized experience to help do the driving. Money matters a lot when you have to make decisions like this. It's not fair for her to be the only one who is aware that you could absolutely afford the second option. You can be as frugal as you want when it's only you. Once a child comes into the picture, the calculus changes, and the other parent should know what resources are available for their child.

Look, the reality is that people who are financially comfortable – not even rich, just making the W2 income this family is making – don’t have to worry about stuff like that through a combination of work-provided insurance, cash flow, and savings. To use it as an argument that it’s reason enough to have brought this up just doesn’t cut it.
posted by InheritanceSockPuppet at 4:34 PM on April 18 [38 favorites]


InheritanceSock, I think that you're approaching this more from a legalistic/financial perspective rather than a moral/interpersonal angle. My impression is that the default norm for most married couples is that unless otherwise stipulated ("we are going to maintain separate finances") pooling assets and disclosing all assets/ liabilities is the norm. It's not really possible to make fully informed joint financial decisions without knowing what kind of resources are on hand (or may be accessible after a certain date.) Morally, IMO, it's "their" money- sharing is one of the key elements of marriage.
As one of the folks who referred to "interest" - I was using this as shorthand, I don't think anyone is picturing keeping this kind of money in a savings account. My point was that the trust's investments can generate returns, capital gains, dividends etc. Obviously many wealthy folks are really bent on tax optimization and will go to great lengths to avoid generating anything that looks like income, but if the OP's spouse has some control over the trust, it certainly would be possible to have a very healthy income stream from it w/o spending the principle.
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 6:13 PM on April 18 [11 favorites]


I am on the other side of this. But I am 59, and totally told my spouse about it. And was totally not this amount of money. Now that you know, you need to understand the situation. Taxes will make it relevant for you personally. Let alone your child/ children.

That being said, having money can mess up your relationship. You need to bring it up and understand what it means for you and your family. Because 30 million Is a crazy amount of money.

Don’t let this money change the people that you are.
posted by Windopaene at 7:54 PM on April 18 [1 favorite]


OP, the more of this discussion I read, the more I think you should bring this up with your wife in a matter-of-fact way and then go together to talk with whoever administers the estate. There could be all sorts of aspects that potentially affect your relationship. For instance, there could be a situation with a trust where if she dies before you, some or all of her share would go not to you but to other beneficiaries of the trust. A lot of those provisions could sound kind of invidious or like they were set up to cut you out, specifically, although they probably were not. But as long as you don't know, I think there is room for all kinds of interpretations that may not be useful for your relationship. And, you know, some of those interpretations could have some basis in reality. A family fortune can have the effect of seeming to keep an adult as a member of their family of origin, sometimes to the detriment of their current family. Maybe your wife doesn't feel that way at all, or maybe she sees the potential and doesn't want it to be that way between you. But you should discuss all this. And to echo what other posters have said, don't go into it with the idea that she's been holding out on you. If she has inherited a fortune, that could very well create a power imbalance in the relationship and that is something you need to work out. But don't come into it with an attitude of resentment. Not that you can't have disagreements down the road, but for now you need to get the information you really need to know, and make sure you take care of the relationship.
posted by BibiRose at 6:44 AM on April 19 [4 favorites]


I agree with a lot of what InheritanceSockPuppet said.

First, people need to recognise where the financial stress points are and are not for someone in the "lower upper middle class". In my own experience those are around education spending (and OP only has a toddler) and around "capital" items like buying second houses, boats, planning early retirement. You definitionally cannot be in any kind of "upper middle class" and be biting your nails at the end of the month about the electricity bill or laying awake at night about buying groceries. We have a name for that kind of relationship with money, those are poor people.

If my wife had an extra 30mn, there is very little that we would choose to do differently in our lives at present. I would be mighty miffed if we later decided not to send our children to a desired private school and it turned out that we could have or I kept working to 68 when it wasn't required, but at present, if we had more money it would all go on essentially unnecessary stuff.

It makes no sense for us to invent a hardscrabble scenario for OP that he has not mentioned in his own post!

Second, I grew up around the children of the very wealthy (I am not that but it's safe to say that the bread-line has never loomed large in my imagination either) and every single one of my school peers who has not found some kind of "work-like" vocation to structure their lives around is already fucked up by their mid-30s. Every single one that has, is fine.

Some of these "jobs" are objectively pretty dumb (side note: most real jobs are also pretty dumb so...), think becoming the world's foremost collector of insect broaches. That's a disguised example obviously but that kind of thing. Or joining the army (very common among the boys from my school), managing the family land (when a professional manager could do it for you). So I have a lot of time for visions of life that do not involve never working.

If she inherited 30mn and you never realised while you were students together or subsequently, it is 100% the case that she is from a particular kind of wealthy family and NOT from the destined for cocaine addiction kind and may well have had certain habits drilled into her around talking about money and showing wealth.

My wife and I maintain entirely separate finances apart from a shared account for bills and an investment account for our son. Even while she's on maternity leave, I'm picking up all the shared expenses during the period where she's unpaid but neither of us have any desire to merge finances further than that - even though in England our finances are de jure completely merged anyway. I know that is really shocking to some people who treat fully merged finances as the default but we are by no means unique. My wife didn't even know my salary until we applied for a mortgage and I don't think we've discussed it since.

All that being said, yes it is a little weird that she hasn't told you, yes it's ok to feel weird about that.

I would *not* do what some others have suggested and use some roundabout scheme to "test" her. You just need to be honest, tell her "Hey, I wasn't really looking for it but... do you really have $30mn?" and then have an open conversation about it.
posted by atrazine at 6:51 AM on April 19 [13 favorites]


My impression is that the default norm for most married couples is that unless otherwise stipulated ("we are going to maintain separate finances") pooling assets and disclosing all assets/ liabilities is the norm

That was my impression too, until my divorce. I don't know what the "norm" is anymore, or if there even is one, but the legal reality is that in the dissolution of a long-term marriage, funds that have been used jointly are owned jointly; funds that are in one person's name and have never been used to support the family remain fully owned by that one person. Anonymous's wife received an inheritance, and has kept it in her name in a trust or some investment vehicle without Anonymous's knowledge. It's hers. There's zero wiggle room on that. I've been through exactly that situation. If this couple divorced today, that money would be 100% the wife's, Anonymous has no claim on it.

This does not mean that Anonymous's wife is a bad person, or is planning to leave him high and dry. She may or may not consciously think of it as "her" money right now. (Though she might. Especially if it's generational money she'll likely have been raised with the expectation of preserving that wealth.)

Look, I know I sound kind of bitter describing what happened to me -- I like to think that if the situations were reversed I would've been fairer about pooling all the assets. But if I'm honest with myself I maybe wouldn't have. After all, we were going to be the exception to the rule and stay married forever, so why bother going through the paperwork? And there'd also be some little "just in case" in the back of my head to incentivize not doing that. And when the end came I certainly would've had clear ideas in my head about what belongs to who, and just like my ex wife, it wouldn't have been "let's divvy it all up evenly". (I wouldn't have asked for child support though. That's just gross).

I can also totally empathize with where Anonymous is at here. My ex "did the taxes" (i.e. "sent off our files to the accounting firm her family had on retainer") and it was really easy to just not worry too much about it -- we had a comfortable living based on my income, and I knew we had a big financial cushion if anything went wrong or I came to retirement age, and until the marriage went wrong, that was enough.

My advice is that Anonymous do one of two things:
* Decide that that money doesn't exist. You never saw it, you don't know anything about it, you're not going to count on it or plan around it. You're in the exact same comfortable situation you were in before you saw that paperwork, everything is fine.
* Talk to your wife about it now, and be prepared for her to have some very complicated feelings about this money. She didn't accidentally not tell you, and it's not unreasonable for her to have kept it secret. Don't go into the conversation with the expectation that "of course we share everything!" is the obvious answer, because it isn't. It's going to be a tough conversation, but if you're going to have it, have it when you're not in an adversarial situation.
posted by ook at 6:54 AM on April 19 [6 favorites]


I mostly disagree with what InheritanceSock wrote, and the vast majority of the wealthy people I know are perfectly fine people. They just have nicer stuff. If you think they are all messed up on drugs or shiftless and aimless, well those are also traits of many of the rest of the US population. It doesn't require much money to be on drugs or aimless.

Anecdotes are anecdotes, and inheriting $7m is far different than $30m.
To consider the scale:
There are multiple entire cities in the US where 4% of $7m (around $300k) is close to the median household income. Darien CT and Southlake TX (over 40,000 people live in Southlake alone) are some examples.

The #1000 company on the Fortune 1000 list (PC Connection) has only about $30m in yearly operating income, and makes less than that in profit most years. It has 2500 employees.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:48 AM on April 19 [7 favorites]


Some people mingle all their money. Some people don’t. Back when I was married, my husband and I did it both ways at different times. I think we gave up having separate finances after we got a kid. With one major exception: when my husband inherited money from his late parents, we had a discussion and I made it clear that I considered that 100% his money to do with as he chose (which was his preference as well but he was afraid I would be mad about it. I was not). We were not living in the US at the time and I have no idea what Swedish law is. But to me, the moral thing was to honor his parents’ wishes that he have complete use of those funds. His parents could have easily included the spouses of their children in their wills had they wanted to.

We all get to believe what we want but I would strongly encourage the OP not to approach this topic with their spouse by invoking any kind of “morality” standard. There is not a standard.
posted by Bella Donna at 8:24 AM on April 19 [2 favorites]


Anecdotes are anecdotes, and inheriting $7m is far different than $30m.

It certainly is, but if she has $30M today, and she's had it for about a decade, she likely inherited $10M or slightly less.
posted by InheritanceSockPuppet at 9:09 AM on April 19 [1 favorite]


It is, of course, a real trade-off that even people who aren't waiting for pay-day have but it is "invented" in the sense that OP hasn't mentioned it happening to them and I have to assume that they would have since they gave us other information about their life and said that they were happy with their finances over all. The situation is very different if that has already happened but I don't see any evidence that such a thing has happened to them. Likewise if a beloved family member had been in severe financial distress and they had been "unable" to help, that would be very serious and again I would expect that OP would mention that context.

My point is that for a young couple with good jobs and one very young child, it is very possible that they have not yet reached the first really hard financial decision in their lives at which not disclosing this money would go from "weird but ultimately inconsequential in terms of decisions made as a couple" and "outrageous betrayal". They mention together for a decade or so, met in college, one toddler, so they're in their early 30s and own a 3 bed house. Yeah you could argue that they could have bought a much bigger house but it doesn't sound like they spent years eating sawdust in order to scrape together enough money for a one bed shithole either.
posted by atrazine at 9:21 AM on April 19 [2 favorites]


I’m just going to pop in to say that we are facing very limited information about the effective size of the bankroll here. Maybe spouse inherited $30m a decade ago; maybe the value of spouse’s inheritance is $30m now; maybe spouse is disallowed from getting at the money until she’s 50 years old; maybe the inheritance, whatever it is, is going to or has been split through 5 different people. We might know more if the OP had the capacity to investigate more! But at the moment we don’t know much.
posted by PaulVario at 1:40 PM on April 19 [4 favorites]


I’m sorry but people up thread who are saying this is HER money. Reverse it and imagine she’s $30 million in debt. What an odd way to look at a marriage / partnership. Are you all in with your partner or not? Would you suddenly leave? If she had $30m or owed $30m?

With that said I think you should take the most respectful interpretation you can and approach the topic with love and empathy and go from there.
posted by jasondigitized at 4:31 PM on April 24 [1 favorite]


For Pete's sake, we're not saying it's her money because that is the perfect or moral outcome or the way things ought to be. We're saying it's her money because legally speaking it is her money.

In common law states, debts or assets acquired before or during the marriage belong to the person whose name it's under, which can be one or both partner. Mingling separate funds in shared accounts can end up attributing it to both partners.

In the nine community property states, debts or assets during the marriage are automatically shared between both partners except for gifts or inheritance. Assets and, I think, debts from before the marriage remain separate property. (I'm not as certain about the debt side of this, and could be off a bit; unlike the rest of what I'm describing I didn't live through that part personally and at length.)

This is an inheritance, predating the marriage, kept in one person's name, which has never been mingled with other marital funds or its existence even revealed to the partner. It's not his. She can share it if she wants to but it belongs to her.

Outside the US, I dunno. I'm being US-chauvinistic, apologies for that, perhaps the law is different or better elsewhere. So many things are. But if the person asking the question is in the US, it's her money.
posted by ook at 5:20 PM on April 28 [5 favorites]


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