The Top 10 Dear Penny Columns of 2022


Dear Reader,

Every week I count on you to send your thorniest money questions my way. And once again, you certainly delivered. Some themes from my inbox in 2022:

  • For the third consecutive year, the most commonly asked question was “Can I get my ex’s Social Security?”
  • The abysmal performance of the stock market had many of you asking: “Should I just cash out already?”
  • Inflation and stagnant wages had a lot of us on edge.
  • As usual, letter writers sought advice about making things work with a partner who’s broke, lazy or both.
  • Inheritances were a hot topic. But lately the burning question has been: “Do I have to share my inheritance with my spouse?”

Got a burning money question? Submit it here. Though I can’t respond to every question, I’ll do my best to answer if I have something helpful to say. Check back on Wednesdays and Sundays to see if I answered your letter. While you’re at it, subscribe to my weekly newsletter for bonus Dear Penny content.

Thanks for reading and for trusting me with your most perplexing money questions. Cheers to a prosperous 2023!

Sincerely,

Penny

Top 10 Dear Penny Columns of 2022

Before we ring in 2023, let’s look back upon some highlights from the past year. These were the 10 most popular Dear Penny columns of 2022.

1. Can I Stop My Ex-Wife From Claiming Half My Social Security?

Dear Penny, 

I was married 22 years. The marriage ended in 2002. When my ex-wife retires, will I be able to collect half of her Social Security? If so, how do I go about that? I am 61; she is 62 now.

Also, would she be able to come after half of my Social Security? How can I prevent the latter? (I earned less than she did.)

-R.

Read Dear Penny’s response here.

2. Do I Have to Pay Mom’s Debt With My $1M Life Insurance Payout?

Dear Penny,

My mom passed away last year with lots of debt in her estate. This debt includes a mortgage, IRS tax liens, credit card debts and other heirs who would need to be notified of her estate. The estate appears to be in debt just below $200,000 with no other assets available to pay for those debts. 

Unknown to me, my mom made me the sole beneficiary under several insurance policies (well over $1 million), including her lifetime pension/annuity. Per her last wishes, through video recordings, she did not want any other family members to be notified of her death, not even my other half siblings. She said that I should simply walk away from all the debts, and all other belongings, including the mortgage. 

I have done exactly as she wished, by filing all claims and paperwork, including the lifetime pension/annuity that I am now receiving. All proceeds from those claims are now deposited into my own personal accounts as the sole beneficiary. 

The only liquid cash that she had was $3,000 in a bank account with no savings or other source of funds. The entire contents of her estate amounted to around $5,000 of personal belongings. At this time the house has gone through foreclosure, including all the furnishings and personal belongings left inside. 

I have not made any effort to notify any debt collectors or any parties who would have a claim as a creditor, including any heirs or family members. (Our family has had a bad relationship for over 10 years, and I was the only one who kept in contact.) I also haven’t filed any of her tax paperwork for the prior year for her final taxes. Her final paychecks were issued out to the estate, around $9,000, and would need to go through probate. 

I have essentially walked away from everything as she has instructed, except to follow through with filing claims for both the policies and her annuity. My main question is, will I be liable for anything due under her name such as back taxes or any other obligations that could pop up in the future? 

I have already asked two attorneys, but both of them have simply said that I can walk away. But I have some reservations in doing so, as it just does not feel normal. As the sole beneficiary of both the policies and lifetime annuity, am I obligated to pay any taxes or liens that may present themselves in the future? 

-J.

Read Dear Penny’s response here.

3. Can My Deadbeat Son Fight My Decision to Disinherit Him?

Dear Penny,

I am 73 and have one son who is unmarried and lives in the same town. I also have five siblings. I am very close to my youngest sister, who is on disability. I paid my home off two years ago, and I have some 401(k) savings. 

I am planning on leaving my home and all of my 401(k) and savings accounts to my sister. I owe no money to anyone. I have a $10,000 life insurance policy I put in my son’s name. 

I know he will be upset, but he has been stealing from me for years as he did with his dad when he was living. He has a set of master keys and gets in even after I’ve changed my locks and also stole my extra car key! Can he fight my decision in court to get the money and house after I pass on?

-L.

Read Dear Penny’s response here.

4. Am I Responsible for My New Husband’s Secret $200K Debt?

Dear Penny,

I am 59 and was recently married. I just learned he is in debt for over $200,000. As of right now, all of our financial stuff is separate. If he passes away, am I responsible for his debt even though it was acquired before our marriage? Also, are we better off filing our taxes separately?

-M.

Read Dear Penny’s response here.

Got a Burning Money Question?

Get practical advice for your money challenges from Robin Hartill, a Certified Financial Planner and the voice of Dear Penny.

DISCLAIMER: Select questions will appear in The Penny Hoarder’s “Dear Penny” column. We are unable to answer every letter. We reserve the right to edit and publish your questions. But don’t worry — your identity will remain anonymous. Dear Penny columns are for general informational purposes only, but we promise to provide sound advice based on our own research and insights.

5. I Can’t Afford a Divorce Lawyer. Am I Stuck With My Wife Forever?

Dear Penny, 

I will have been married for 30 years in July 2022. My wife and I haven’t been intimate in over 10 years. We’re both 58 years of age. 

I haven’t been in love with her for almost half our marriage. I’ve told her for the last 10 to 12 years that I want a divorce. But I can’t get a divorce attorney at this time because I’ve been trying to pay off hospital bills and other loans. 

I’ve been disabled since close to the end of 2016. My disability is more in my severe depression and my migraine headaches. Stress usually causes my migraine headaches.

When my dad died, my siblings and I received an inheritance of about $100,000. My inheritance money paid off our house. 

I’m afraid if I proceed with divorce that I’m going to be homeless. I had been hoping that my wife would leave instead of me leaving, but I’m almost 100% sure she’s not going anywhere. 

My wife and I do not have any more children living with us. I honestly cannot stand to be around her anymore. When she speaks to me, her voice drives me nuts. I just don’t want her to say anything to me. 

Penny, I don’t know if I’m asking you for advice or really what I’m doing. I cry almost every day because I’m so sad and alone. I honestly don’t know what to do with myself. I don’t want to be homeless, but I don’t want to be sad and alone anymore. Can you give me advice on what I need to do, please?

-E.

Read Dear Penny’s response here.

6. Was I Wrong to Give My Daughter’s College Fund to a Relative?

Dear Penny,

When my daughter didn’t go to college even after taking a “gap year,” I used her college fund (still legally my money) to pay off a relative’s student loans. My daughter was furious, and this soon translated into a general anger toward “deadbeats” who don’t want to pay back their student loans. 

I pointed out that many people were coerced into student loan debt. She said they should “grow up” and support themselves. This was quite ironic coming from a twentysomething who lives at home rent-free. 

To teach her a lesson, I tried to charge her rent. When she didn’t pay, I threatened to kick her out, but she knew I didn’t mean it. I thought maybe she had learned her lesson, but she just now made an angry post regarding the payment pause extension. I’m pretty sure she reads this column, so maybe you could help her to see the problem with her attitude?

-L.

Read Dear Penny’s response here.

7. Can I Kick Out My Boyfriend if We’re in a Common Law Marriage?

Dear Penny,

I am in a bit of a mess and have no idea what I should do. My boyfriend and I have been dating for about seven years. Last year we decided to buy a house and finally move in together. 

Unfortunately for personal reasons (not bad credit), he is not able to have anything in his name. Therefore, the house is under my name alone. After moving in, we bought a car. We also needed furniture for the house, so I opened a few lines of credit also under my name to furnish the house. 

Six months later, our relationship isn’t doing so well. We constantly fight, and it has gotten to the point where I have seriously considered ending the relationship. 

The issue is, I fear ending the relationship because I know I can’t afford the mortgage, car payment, bills and credit card debt by myself. On top of that he has told me that if I end the relationship, he will not leave because we are in a “common law marriage” and, therefore, this house is just as much his as it is mine. 

I don’t want to stay in a toxic relationship, but I also can’t afford to end it. Is this true? Does he have a claim to the house under common law marriage? What can I do about the debt I can’t afford on my own? I feel like such a failure. Please help!

– L.

Read Dear Penny’s response here.

8. My Best Friend Died. Is Her Husband Liable for Her Secret Debt?

Dear Penny,

My best friend was recently killed by a drunk driver. I’m helping her husband sort everything out, and we’ve discovered she was hiding credit card debt. She also had several student loans he didn’t know about. 

His name wasn’t on any of it. Is he liable for these debts?

-Picking Up the Pieces

Read Dear Penny’s response here.

9. Should My Husband Refuse to Pay $600 for His Mom’s Cremation?

Dear Penny,

My 72-year-old mother-in-law passed away last month. She had cancer, and, sadly, it took her very quickly. Before she died, she had made her wishes known to my father-in-law as to what she wanted after death, which was no funeral, just cremation, and for the family to go and have a meal together.

The problem is that my in-laws live in Britain, where my husband is from. His whole family still lives there. My husband has lived in the U.S. for 27 years. My one brother-in-law and his wife arranged everything for my father-in-law.

Money is tight for us so we could only arrange for my husband to go. He had enough frequent flyer miles to help bring down the costs a little for us, but there are still fees and taxes involved with those tickets. The ticket cost around $450. My brother-in-law offered to pick him up from the airport and take him back because he gets free diesel in his company van. My husband took $300 with him to cover meals and his share of the funeral meal. While he was there, he took out his dad and then his dad, brother and his family.

Fast forward to two weeks later, and we received an invoice for one-third of the cost of the cremation, which comes to around $600. The crematorium holds the ashes until the bill is paid. My husband is a little frustrated at this. He has two brothers, one who lives in the same town as his parents and the other who lives within driving distance of his parents. Neither spent a fraction of what my husband spent to get there.

We don’t know what to do. We don’t have the money immediately to pay. We can save, but it will take a couple of months. We finally paid off all of our credit cards through a consolidation loan so we don’t want to use credit. In the meantime, my father-in-law awaits my mother-in-law’s ashes, and it’s causing a rift in relationships. The brothers aren’t extremely close already, but my husband was hoping his mum’s passing might help bridge the gap.

Can we tell them it will take a few months to save? Or can we tell them we just can’t afford it?

-Frustrated at Funeral Costs

Read Dear Penny’s response here.

10. My Husband Refuses to Pay for the Costs of Raising Our Kid

Dear Penny, 

My husband makes at least twice as much money as I do and we both pay bills. He refuses to pay for anything for our child. Not school supplies, clothes, classes, or birthday and Christmas gifts. He will even avoid me when I try to talk to him about it. 

I never have money because I pay bills also and pay for everything for our child. What should I do?

-T.

Read Dear Penny’s response here.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].




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