I Have Big Plans for the Family Home. My Stepmother Has No Clue.

Pay Dirt is Slate’s money advice column. Have a question? Send it to Athena and Elizabeth here(It’s anonymous!)

Dear Pay Dirt,

When my parents got married my mother already owned her own home. She passed away while I was in high school and left the house to me with my father retaining the right to occupy the home for 10 years after her death. I pay the taxes and maintenance on the home from the remainder of my inheritance. My father pays the utilities. When I was in college my father remarried and his new wife and her two children moved into the house. I moved back into the home last year to attend graduate school. The transition was rocky. There were several arguments about house rules and who was in charge of things like bedroom assignments. It quickly became clear that my father’s wife believed he owned the home. I don’t know whether he lied to her directly or she just had a false impression. Either way, she was not happy when I told her the house was mine.

Things have calmed down a bit, but the situation is still uncomfortable. The 10-year right to occupy will be up in 18 months and I plan to sell the home at that time. I informed my father a few months ago. The problem is that I don’t believe he has told his wife. According to my lawyer, I don’t have to do anything other than serve them with a notice to vacate 40 days before the closing date, but I feel I need to tell her sooner if my father doesn’t. But I also don’t want to be stuck living with someone who resents me more than she already does for the next year and a half. What is a fair way to proceed?

—Reluctant Homeowner

Dear Reluctant Homeowner, 

This situation is a tough one. I spoke with lawyer Kevin L. Deeb, managing partner at Deeb & Deeb, for an expert opinion on your situation.

It sounds like you’ve got your legal bases covered with the help of your lawyer. Still, I asked Deeb to run us through some of the basics. Laws vary from state to state, but in Florida, where Deeb practices, “A minor child has a vested remainder interest in the homestead property when one parent dies. The surviving spouse has a life estate, which provides the surviving spouse the right to occupy the home during their lifetime, but they can never sell the house,” Deeb said. But as you mention, your dad’s right to occupy will be up in 18 months. Deeb notes that your father and his wife cannot prevent the sale of the home if you have a fee simple title, which gives you full ownership of the land and property.

But despite this, Deeb suggests that you start pursuing clear and candid conversations with your father and stepmother about your upcoming plans. Talk clearly with them about what’s going on with your timeline, in order to avoid disputes. Speaking openly with them can also potentially minimize the risk of costly litigation if your father or stepmother choose to see outside counsel. “Plus, the optics of forcibly removing your father and stepmother from home would not look very good,” Deeb said. “Yes, the reader can send a notice to vacate, but wouldn’t it be less stressful and time-consuming to have it all out in the open?” So if your father isn’t willing to break the news, yes, you might have to do it yourself.

Deeb does mention that since there is no “landlord and tenant” relationship between you and your father’s family, “In Florida, it would be an unlawful detainer and not an eviction if she were required to seek the assistance of a court to have them vacate the property unwillingly.” Of course, this is in Florida and not necessarily where you live, but it’s a good idea to talk to your lawyer about your plans for transparent communication and inquire about what could happen if your stepmother and father didn’t want to leave the home voluntarily.

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Dear Pay Dirt,

I’m disabled, so while I make decent money at a full-time job, I have some extra expenses (medical bills, sporadic hospital bills, a cleaning service) that have resulted in my parents taking on some of my bills. For various reasons, this is becoming unsustainable and I need to achieve financial independence ASAP. I need to math out exactly how much money I’m spending every month (I should know this already, but here we are) so I can figure out either living within my existing means or getting a better job. This seems like it should be straightforward, but I’m intimidated and afraid of messing it up. How do I start?

—First Time Budgeter

Dear First-time Budgeter,

I know it can seem overwhelming, but tracking your expenses doesn’t need to be complicated. Since it’s your first time, I recommend you start by using a budgeting app. They’re a pretty accessible way to ease into following where your money is going. Simply sync your budgeting app with your checking account and credit cards, and then watch as your budgeting app categorizes your spending for you. You can set weekly or monthly alerts for your app to summarize your expenditures in each category. I recommend checking out a few apps: Rocket Money, Copilot, Monarch Money, or Tiller.

Of course, there are other methods if you find the apps aren’t cutting it for you. There’s always the old-fashioned way: tracking your spending manually with a spreadsheet or written in a notebook. I’ve dug into the basics of budgeting in this column before—so you might check out a few previous editions as well before you get started.

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Dear Pay Dirt,

A low-stakes question for you: What is the best savings/investment vehicle in which to stash excess income (after expenses and sufficient retirement savings are covered)? Our monthly income covers our expenses and we we have retirement plans through work that should be sufficient for our needs, but we often have some money left over, and we receive $20,000 per year in early-inheritance gifts from a wealthy family member, and we don’t really know where best to put that kind of thing.

The excess monthly income just builds up in our checking account as a sort of emergency fund (and when it gets higher than we need for an emergency fund I move some into savings), and the lump sum gifts are currently just piling up in our Bank of America savings account (about $100,000 currently). We have informally earmarked that savings account for a variety of large-ish expenses that are not yet concrete but are foreseeable in the not-too-distant future and on an ongoing basis over the years (like house projects/repairs, car replacements, vacations, etc.) What’s the best place to store that kind of savings, where it can grow over the years but you can still withdraw significant chunks as needed from time to time? I don’t know whether a high-yield savings account, CDs, a mutual fund, or some other option is the best way to go. Thank you!

—First World Problems

Dear First World Problems, 

It may seem like a trivial problem, but it’s pretty important to make sure your money is working for you. I tapped attorney and personal finance expert Erika Kullberg for some advice on getting the most out of your investments.

Keep in mind the best vehicle for investing isn’t the same for everyone. Kullberg notes that the investment strategy you choose should depend on how easily and quickly you want to access your money. She also suggests asking yourself how much risk you’re wiling to take. For example, “If you want to grow your savings but also keep them easily accessible, investing in the stock market may not be the best choice because it’s considered higher risk than earning interest through a High Yield Savings Account (HYSA) or a Certificate of Deposit (CD),” Kullberg said. A CD can offer you more interest than a typical savings account and guarantees interest. However, you can’t touch it for some time if you want to cash in on that interest you’ve made.

If you’re looking for more flexibility, Kullberg suggests that a HYSA might be better for you. “Many high-yield savings accounts offer higher interest rates than CDs,” Kullberg said. “Savings account rates can change over time, but you can access your money at the end of the day.” Good luck!


I have had an exclusively beach-themed Christmas tree for about 15 years because it matches my home’s decor and, quite frankly, I’m a bit obsessed with all things seaside. All my ornaments are sentimental, from trips and the times I’ve lived by the ocean. I had children a few years ago (who are ocean-themed-named), and my mother-in-law wanted to start getting them ornaments.