The Moneyist: ‘I’m by no means a gold digger, but I feel jerked around’ — he lived with his elderly friend for 16 years and suspects he’s broke
I am unsure how to word this without sounding horrible but, this is so unique, I fear that you won’t want to advise because so much detail is needed. But here goes nothing:
I have a dear friend that is 70 (about twice my age) that I have known since 2003. He gave me a free room as a stranger in need after just one meeting. He was the perfect honorable host (we’re both gay) and on top of that he was a truck driver, so I was left alone in his apartment in those early days. Later, he freely gave financial assistance on occasion without hesitation and always provided a shoulder to cry on; I’ve always had keys to his place too. He even took the trouble to bond with my partner of many years, despite being very antisocial overall.
He had a partner that was tragically killed in a freak accident a few decades ago. I’m frankly astounded that we’ve bonded so well after he kind of pulled away from the world after that tragedy.
He is also long estranged from his siblings and has only one other close friend across the country from his youth. He had a partner that was tragically killed in a freak accident a few decades ago. I’m frankly astounded that we’ve bonded so well after he kind of pulled away from the world after that tragedy. But he is also easily (quietly) offended, I’m still paying/deprived for not liking his cooking so long ago for one meal etc., it just takes a little slight sometimes.
So here’s the issue: He retired due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and he is in remission from cancer. I have given a lot of resources to helping out with rides, meals, company and more. I have power of attorney. I am named as sole executor and beneficiary in his will, completely ignoring all the people he has known far longer. He’s always hinted at having good assets and wrote a few large checks over the years, only recently he admitted to having bought 1,500 Krugerrands in the 1970s. One can see why you wouldn’t go telling just anyone.
Despite that fact that he is not working, we both deeply care about this man and its held us off from pursuing other things. I took him at his word because he’s been so dependable forever and now we are nearly broke.
My partner and I suggested getting a house four years ago. My friend also seemed very excited about this as he needs help. It seemed to make even more sense to combine households: My friend, my partner and me. We viewed places, and got an agent. It all seemed serious. Then my friend retired due to COPD and has since had major skin cancer. I gladly helped while he dealt with treatment with rides, meals and company. My partner and I have expended incredible resources waiting for mingling of households to happen. Despite that fact that he is not working, we both deeply care about this man and its held us off from pursuing other things. I took him at his word because he’s been so dependable forever and now we are nearly broke.
He has stopped nearly all spending beyond Social Security to a point where he lives without basic needs, forgoing proper food and more. I can understand cutting back after saving for decades and now being in the red, but his cutbacks are so extreme I am beginning to doubt his assets. I’m by no means a gold digger, but I feel jerked around and led on. My partner is downright despondent after years of me urging him to trust him and telling him that my friend just likes to take his time. It wouldn’t ever have mattered if he was much poorer than claimed, but we would have much different lives. There are some other past inconsistencies that arouse suspicion, but I’ve chalked that off to him keeping details to himself.
He is still very sharp, but doesn’t seem to understand what we’ve sacrificed, most of this being without any specifics other than vague allusions to his wealth over the years.
This is such a hard thing to bring up with a non-family member without seeming improperly interested. I’m also so awkward on top of that. Getting the papers done before he had surgery was hard enough. He is still very sharp, but doesn’t seem to understand what we’ve sacrificed, most of this being without any specifics other than vague allusions to his wealth over the years. I’m trying so hard to not hand him that guilt. I didn’t really need to know before and he’s spent so long not telling anyone anything specific that it’s likely second nature.
I’d really feel so much better if I could simply verify the presence of a safety deposit box quietly. He also has claimed to own $600,000 or so in five-year bonds or something similar. I know this is more of an inheritance question, but if you know the answer or can direct me to someone that may be able to advise me on how to handle this situation, I’d be grateful. This stuff has never been my forte.
Tied in Knots
There are so many moving parts to this story. Let me start with the non-arrangement itself. It’s a classic co-dependent relationship, one that is based on needs (yours and his) and finances (mostly his to begin with, but now yours). You have enabled your friend to make promises he either can’t or won’t keep, and he enabled you when he decided to give you free food and shelter just a hot minute after you met, and a shoulder to cry on and a fantasy future where you inherit a significant amount of wealth and live happily ever after — after your friend passes away.
You have enabled your friend to make promises he either can’t or won’t keep, and he enabled you when he decided to give you free food and shelter just a hot minute after you met.
Here are some questions Darlene Lancer, a marriage and family therapist, says people should ask themselves about being in a co-dependent relationship: “Do you expend all of your energy in meeting your partner’s needs? Do you feel trapped in your relationship? Are you the one that is constantly making sacrifices in your relationship? Then you may be in a co-dependent relationship.” More interestingly, here are Lancer’s symptoms of co-dependency: Low self-esteem, people pleasing, poor boundaries, obsessive thinking, caretaking, control, dysfunctional communication.
What do you do now? You can do a few things that will free you to live your life on your own terms, regain your financial and personal independence, and live without having to walk on eggshells of your own creation. There are eggshells beneath your feet that prevent you from speaking up and taking action, only if you believe they’re there. There’s a vast middle ground between living in a place of uncertainty and fear, and having a knock-down, blow-out fight. Healthy communication is critical for any healthy relationship. You can’t have one without the other.
Try the “open the wallet” strategy. It’s the conversational equivalent of those tea lights sitting on a table inside the entrance of Ikea. The store eases you into buying with something small. You hardly feel a thing. How about: “I’d like to make plans for the future. Combining households could be helpful for all of us, if you are still interested, but my partner and I would like to figure out all our finances in order to do that.” You’re being clear and honest about your intentions. You’re not asking to help him with his finances as part of some altruistic act. We all have needs. Be up front about yours.
As a secondary point, explain that your friend should get his finances in order and, if you are to be the executor and beneficiary of his estate, you need to know what’s involved. Knowing how much is in the estate will enable you and your partner plan for your own futures after he’s gone. This might be difficult for you, but it’s essential to be explicit. Don’t say, “You should get your financial documents in order! Why don’t I help with that?” You both know what’s going on here, and what’s gone unsaid. It’s time for someone to spit it out. (Here is a list of those financial documents.)
You can tell yourself that there was a bond or some kind of magical friendship born out of that first meeting, but the truth is that this was a transactional relationship from the start.
As well as being honest with your friend, you should be honest with yourself. Your friend was lonely, and you needed somewhere to live. You can tell yourself that there was a bond or some kind of magical friendship born out of that first meeting, but the truth is that this was a transactional relationship from the start. You both wanted and needed something from the other. You got a better deal early on, but it came at a price: You didn’t invest in your own future because he provided you with a home as a de facto parental figure. Also, now your friend is sick, and the charitable scales have tipped in the other direction.
You don’t owe your friend anything except the truth. You may or may not get that. For better or for worse, if you can end this relationship and walk away, so can he.
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