The Penny Hoarder’s 2021 Survey on Retirement Savings During Covid

The COVID-19 crisis has affected the way many Americans are able to save for retirement, with surprising disparities among age groups, gender and even geographic areas.

Nearly 17% of Americans say they’re saving less money for retirement due to the pandemic, according to a new survey by The Penny Hoarder, which also found that 16% of respondents are saving more money in response to COVID-19. The survey polled 1,001 people in October 2021.

Geographic Differences

From a regional standpoint, people in the Northeast were much more likely to save extra money for retirement in response to the pandemic, at 44%, according to The Penny Hoarder’s data.

Men in the Northeast were over three times more likely to say they’re saving more for retirement than women in the Northeast.

People in the South were most likely to report no change to their retirement savings, at roughly 32%, while 31% of Southerners say they’re now saving less due to COVID.

Disruptions in the tourism industry may be causing a slower economic recovery in the South than other parts of the U.S. For example, in Orlando, Florida — where roughly one in five employees worked directly in hospitality and leisure in 2019 — unemployment rates remained much higher than the national average in 2020.

Other economic factors — including a state’s median wages, its unemployment rate and the overall cost of living — impact how much someone can save for retirement in one state versus another.

Gender Differences

Men were considerably more likely to beef up their retirement savings in response to COVID-19 than women: 59% of men are saving more compared to just 41% of women.

Pre-pandemic numbers already pointed to a sizable gender gap in retirement savings. A 2019 Bank of America Merrill Lynch Workplace Benefits Report found that women enter retirement with $70,000 less than men.

But the pandemic introduced new challenges for working-age women, especially those with children.

The cost of child care is a significant financial burden for many American families.

A September 2021 survey by The Penny Hoarder of 2,000 parents found that nearly 1 in 5 parents say they had to quit a job due to high child care costs — finding it made more sense to leave the workforce entirely than to pay for daycare or babysitters.

Women were also more likely to work in sectors hardest hit by COVID-19 shutdowns, such as hospitality and retail. Women experienced higher unemployment rates throughout the pandemic than men, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Since most Americans use employer-sponsored vehicles — such as pensions and 401(k)s — to save for retirement, less workforce participation makes it particularly challenging for women to boost their savings.

Age Differences

At 35%, millennials between 25 and 34 were the age group most likely to save more for retirement in response to COVID.

Meanwhile, those with the least amount of time until retirement saw the biggest slide. Nearly a quarter of GenXers between 45 and 54 said they are saving less thanks to COVID. Another 27% of GenXers said the pandemic had no impact on their retirement savings.

This same age group of 45-to-54-year-olds was the least likely to amp up savings due to COVID, at just 19%.

Saving for Retirement Is Critical — Even During a Pandemic

Retirement is expensive — and Americans were struggling to save enough money for it long before the pandemic.

The economic turmoil of the pandemic underscored some critical lessons about investing for the long term, including keeping calm during turbulent markets and using market slumps as an opportunity to invest when prices are low.

Americans weren’t all in the same pandemic recession — and The Penny Hoarder’s new data underscores how uneven the recovery has been too.

No matter your age or stage of life, it’s critical to put money away for retirement. If you’re in your 20s, starting to save now will pay huge dividends later. If you’re in your 50s, it’s not too late. Here’s The Penny Hoarder’s comprehensive guide on how to save for retirement at any age.

Methodology: The Penny Hoarder used Google Surveys to conduct a national survey about the impact of COVID on retirement savings. 1,001 people completed the survey between October 5-7, 2021. Survey responses are weighted so that each response is representative of the U.S. population.

Rachel Christian is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance and a senior writer for The Penny Hoarder.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

Is Taking Social Security at 62 a Huge Mistake?

When your 62nd birthday approaches, you’ll have a big decision to make: Should you take Social Security at 62 and accept lower benefits? Or should you delay Social Security to get a higher benefit amount?

The answer to whether taking Social Security at 62 is the right move for you depends on several factors: your life expectancy, whether you’re retiring early and your overall financial situation. Here are some things to consider in your retirement planning.

How Claiming Social Security Early Works

If you’re claiming Social Security based on your own record or you’re taking spousal benefits, you can start benefits as early as age 62. If you’re a surviving spouse, you can begin receiving benefits at 60. However, by taking benefits earlier, you’ll face a lifetime benefit reduction.

Your Social Security benefit is based on your primary insurance amount. That’s the amount you’d receive if you started your benefits at full retirement age. If you were born in 1960 or later, your full retirement age is 67. Full retirement age ranges from age 66 for those born in 1943 to age 66 and 10 months if you were born in 1959.

Any time you take Social Security before your full retirement age, you’ll have to accept a reduced benefit. Your benefit will be 6.66% lower for each year of early benefits. If you start them at that earliest eligible age of 62, your benefits will be 30% lower than they’ll be if you wait until you reach normal retirement age.

However, if you can hold out past full retirement age, you’ll earn delayed retirement credits. These amount to 8% per year until your Social Security benefits cap out at age 70. Waiting until age 70 results in a monthly benefit that’s 77% higher compared to if you started at age 62.

Pro Tip

If you’re claiming spousal benefits, you won’t be able to earn delayed retirement credits. Your benefit will max out at your full retirement age.

Maximum Social Security Benefit in 2022

Starting Age Maximum Benefit

Age 62

$2,364

Age 65

$2,993

Age 66

$3,240

Age 67

$3,568

Age 70

$4,194

When Taking Social Security at 62 Makes Sense

Choosing when to take your Social Security retirement benefits is one of the biggest personal finance decisions you’ll ever make. However, you may want to start benefits as early as age 62 in the following situations.

You Have Health Problems

If you’re in poor health or your parents died relatively young, claiming early often makes sense. Your Social Security payments will be lower, but claiming early may result in higher overall lifetime benefits.

Keep in mind, though, that your life expectancy is difficult to predict. Even if your health isn’t perfect, there’s a good chance you’ll live longer than you predict. According to the Centers for Disease Control, someone who turned 65 in 2019 could expect to live another 19.6 years on average. Outliving your money is a much bigger risk than leaving money on the table.

Pro Tip

While you can claim Social Security retirement benefits as early as age 62, most people don’t become eligible for Medicare until age 65.

You Have a Pressing Financial Need

The irony of Social Security is that the people who most depend on it often can’t afford to hold out for a bigger monthly benefit. That’s because many older workers are forced to retire early because of health problems, a layoff or caregiving duties. Social Security income can be a lifeline in these situations.

If delaying Social Security retirement checks would push you into debt, claiming early is a wise decision. Likewise, if delaying Social Security would cause you to forgo health insurance or medical treatment, you don’t want to wait.

You’re Not Planning to Work

Taking Social Security while working before full retirement age will reduce your monthly benefit if your salary exceeds certain limits. In 2022, Social Security will reduce your benefit by $1 for every $2 you earn above $19,560. The year you reach full retirement age, the annual limit is $51,960 and Social Security will only withhold $1 for every $3 you earn above this amount. Once you reach your full retirement age, you don’t have to worry about a reduced benefit.

But you’re not permanently giving up that money. When you hit normal retirement age, Social Security will recalculate your benefit at a higher amount to give you credit for the withheld funds. However, this temporary reduction often makes it so that taking Social Security early when you’re still employed isn’t worth your while.

When to Delay Taking Social Security

Obviously, there’s a lot of guesswork involved in terms of when to collect Social Security benefits. If these circumstances apply, consider waiting to claim benefits so you can collect more money each month.

Your Health Is Excellent

Taking early benefits typically doesn’t make sense when you have an above-average life expectancy. Social Security’s cost of living adjustments, or COLAs, have severely lagged behind the real-world living cost increases seniors face. Though soaring inflation pushed the 2022 Social Security COLA to 5.9%, in most years, it’s hovered around 1% or 2%. Starting with an already reduced benefit makes it tough to keep up.

If you expect to live into your 80s or 90s, waiting is often the best move. Every year you wait past 62, your checks will increase by 6.66% until full retirement age. After that, they’ll increase by 8% until you hit the maximum benefit at age 70.

Your Spouse Will Claim Your Benefit

If you’re married, you can’t just think about your own Social Security retirement benefits. You need to consider how your decision affects your spouse.

Often it makes sense for the higher-earning spouse to wait, particularly if they’re significantly older than the lower-earning spouse. If the higher earner dies before the lower earner, the lower benefit will be able to switch over to the higher survivor benefit. The widowed spouse can receive up to 100% of the deceased spouse’s benefits.

You’re Postponing Retirement

If you’re still able to work and you enjoy your job, delaying Social Security is a sound strategy. By not taking early retirement, you’ll be able to get a bigger benefit, of course. But by earning a paycheck, you can avoid taking money out of your 401(k) or individual retirement account (IRA), giving your money more time to compound.

Can You Undo Your Decision to Claim Social Security?

You have two opportunities to reverse your decision to take Social Security retirement benefits.

  • You can withdraw your application: If you took Social Security early and it’s been less than a year, you can fill out Form SSA-521 to withdraw your application. You’ll need to repay Social Security for all benefits you received, along with any taxes or Medicare premiums that were withheld. When you’re ready to restart benefits, you’ll need to reapply. Then, you’ll qualify for a higher benefit based on your age at the time.
  • You can suspend your benefits if you’ve reached full retirement age: If you’ve reached full retirement age but want to earn those 8% delayed retirement credits, you can contact your local Social Security office and ask to suspend your benefits. For example, if you suspend your benefits at age 67 and restart them at 69, your payments will be 16% higher. Your checks will automatically resume once you turn 70 if you don’t restart them sooner.

As you can see, your options for reversing your decision to start benefits are very limited. If you’re unsure about how to proceed, it’s essential to talk to a financial advisor before you take that first Social Security check.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to  or chat with her in The Penny Hoarder Community.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

How to Find Out Your 2022 Social Security Increase Early

The Social Security Administration will start sending out 2022 cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) notices by mail throughout December. But if you want to see your new benefit amount sooner, you can check your notice online by logging into your MySocialSecurity account.

The information will be available starting in early December, according to the Social Security Administration. You can find your COLA notice in the message center.

If your COLA isn’t available online yet, you can get an update as soon as it’s posted by enabling account notifications. Simply log into your My Social Security account, then select email or text notifications under message center preferences.

Roughly 70 million Americans will see a 5.9% bump in their monthly Social Security benefits and Supplemental Security Income payments next year.

It’s the largest cost-of-living adjustment in nearly 40 years.

How to Create a My Social Security Account

If you don’t already have an account, you can create one anytime. However, only beneficiaries who created an account prior to Nov. 17 will receive their 2022 COLA notice online.

It’s a good idea to create an online account for other reasons, too — especially if you receive Social Security or SSI benefits.

With a MySocialSecurity account you can also:

  • Request a new Social Security card.
  • Set up or change direct deposit.
  • Get your Social Security tax form (SSA-1099).
  • Print a benefit verification letter.
  • Change your address.

To create an account, you’ll need to do the following:

  1. Verify your identity by entering personal information about yourself.
  2. Answer some security questions.
  3. Create a username and password.
  4. Confirm your email address or phone number by entering a one-time security code.

Whether you have an online account or not, you can expect to receive a paper notice in the mail in upcoming weeks.

How Much Money Will the Average Social Security Recipient Get in 2022?

The 2022 COLA increase is the biggest since 1982.

Here’s what that looks like for the average recipient:

  • Retired workers will get an extra $92 a month on average, bringing the average monthly benefit to $1,657.
  • Disabled workers will get an extra $76 a month on average, bringing the average monthly benefit to $1,358.
  • The maximum Supplemental Security Income benefit for individuals will increase by $47 a month, bringing the maximum monthly benefit to $841.
Have questions? We have answers about how Social Security works

Why Your 5.9% COLA Might Not Go Far

The Social Security COLA is tied to inflation.

The annual increase is meant to offset the rising cost of everyday essentials like food, housing and gas.

Yet Social Security COLAs have historically lagged behind inflation — including this year.

The Consumer Price Index, a government measure for the change in prices over time, hit 6.2% in October — so the 5.9% COLA already falls short.

Higher Medicare costs in 2022 will likely erode the new Social Security adjustment even further.

Most Medicare beneficiaries have their monthly Part B premium automatically deducted from their Social Security checks.

On Nov. 12, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced that Part B premiums are increasing by $21.60 a month in 2022 — the biggest one-year increase in Medicare history.

Medicare beneficiaries are also facing higher Part A and Part B deductibles next year.

On a fixed income? Learn more about the 2022 Medicare premium increase — along with steps you can take to lower your health care costs. 

Rachel Christian is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance and a senior writer for The Penny Hoarder.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

3 Ways to Save on Medicare as Premiums Rise

Older Americans are facing an economic catch-22 next year. Social Security checks are getting bigger, but Medicare costs are also rising.

Monthly Medicare Part B premiums will rise a whopping $21.60 in 2022 — the biggest year-over-year dollar increase in the federal program’s history.

We have suggestions for how to soften the blow.

Medicare Costs Are Rising in 2022

The new Part B premium will cost beneficiaries $170.10 a month in 2022, up from $148.50 in 2021. The increase is double what experts were anticipating just last month.

Nearly 1 in 5 Americans could be impacted by the Medicare increase. In 2020, the nation’s largest federal health care program covered 61.2 million people ages 65 and older along with some younger people with long-term disabilities — 18.5% of the U.S. population.

Medicare Part B is a foundational part of the federal insurance program, covering doctor visits, outpatient surgeries, medical equipment and more. It charges beneficiaries a monthly premium for coverage, which have been steadily rising since 2000. (Back then, it was just $46 a month.)

But this year’s hike is the biggest one-year increase in Medicare’s 56-year history. For comparison, Part B premiums increased by just $3.90 last year.

Medicare recipients are getting squeezed in other ways.

The Part B deductible — the cost enrollees pay out-of-pocket each year before Medicare starts paying its share — is also increasing by $30 next year.

The Part A deductible will be higher, too. Medicare Part A primarily covers hospital stays and skilled nursing facilities.

2022 Medicare Costs at a Glance

Program Cost Up from Increase

Medicare Part B premium

$170.10 per month

$148.50 in 2021

$21.60 per month

Medicare Part B deductible

$233 per year

$203 in 2021

$30 per year

Medicare Part A deductible

$1,556 per year

$1,484 in 2021

$72 per year

Why Are Medicare Costs Going Up in 2022?

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) offered a few reasons for the historically high Part B increase in a Nov. 12 press release.

  1. Rising health care prices and an increased use of the Medicare system, some of which is attributed to COVID-19 care.
  2. Medicare Part B premiums only increased $3 from 2020 to 2021 after Congress decided to soften the blow of price hikes on beneficiaries during the pandemic. Congress then directed CMS to pay back the reduced premium over time — and that payback catch-up starts in 2022.
  3. There’s a controversial new Alzheimer’s drug on the market called Aduhelm and CMS is still deciding if Medicare will cover it. The complex infusion treatment is extremely expensive, with an estimated price tag of $56,000 a year. It’s unclear if Aduhelm will get a green light from Medicare, but CMS says it still “must plan for the possibility of coverage for this high cost Alzheimer’s drug” because it could lead to significantly higher expenditures for the Medicare program.

About half of the 2022 Part B premium increase is due to contingency planning for Aduhelm coverage, according to CBS News.

“The increase in the Part B premium for 2022 is continued evidence that rising drug costs threaten the affordability and sustainability of the Medicare program,” CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure said in a press release.

Medicare is complicated. Here are seven things you should know about the program and how it works. 

High-Income Earners Will Pay Even More for Medicare Next Year

High-income earners will shoulder additional Medicare costs in 2022 thanks to the income-related monthly adjustment amount.

Simply put, Part B and Part D premiums are tied to a beneficiary’s income. People with higher incomes pay more than the standard Medicare premiums.

According to CMS, only about 7% of Medicare enrollees pay higher Part B premiums due to income and 8% pay higher Part D premiums.

The graduated surcharges for high-income earners kick in for single filers who earn more than $91,000 and couples who earn more than $182,000.

The Part B income-related monthly adjusted premium is $238.10 in 2022, an increase of $30.20 from 2021.

Meanwhile, the wealthiest older Americans — singles with $500,000 of income or more and couples with $750,000 of income or more — will face total Part B premiums of $578.30 a month per person, a $73.40 increase over 2021.

To see a full breakdown of income-related monthly adjustment amounts for 2022, click here.

Medicare Costs Will Likely Eat Up Your Social Security Increase

In October, Social Security recipients got some good news.

The annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) is increasing 5.9% in 2022 — the biggest COLA in nearly 40 years.

Here’s what that looks like for the average recipient:

  • Retired workers will get an extra $92 a month on average, bringing the average monthly benefit to $1,657.
  • Disabled workers will get an extra $76 a month on average, bringing the average monthly benefit to $1,358.
  • The maximum Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefit will increase by $47 a month, bringing the maximum monthly benefit to $841.

Social Security cost-of-living increases are tied to inflation, and if you haven’t heard, inflation is soaring.

The bumped-up benefit is meant to offset the rising cost for everyday essentials like food, housing and utilities.

Have questions about Social Security? We have answers. 

Yet Social Security COLAs have historically lagged behind inflation. This year is no different.

The Consumer Price Index, a government measure for the change in prices over time, hit 6.2% in October — so the 5.9% COLA still falls short.

Factor in $21.60 a month for higher Part B premiums and that extra money in your Social Security check means even less, said Mary Johnson, a Medicare policy analyst with The Senior Citizens League, a nonpartisan senior group.

“The Medicare Part B premium is automatically deducted from Social Security benefits. So once increased premiums are deducted, the net Social Security benefit won’t be 5.9% higher,” Johnson said.

Those with modest Social Security benefits will see most, if not all, of their pay raise eaten up by rising Medicare and living costs, Johnson said.

“The jump in the Medicare Part B premium for 2022 spells trouble ahead for many beneficiaries wondering where the money will come from to pay all the bills,” Johnson told The Penny Hoarder. “Those with the lowest benefits won’t see much left over.”

Pro Tip

The Social Security Administration usually sends out mailed notices of new benefit amounts in early December — but you can see it now by going online and checking your My Social Security account.

An elderly man and wife look at medicare options on their laptop.

3 Ways to Lower Your Medicare Costs in 2022

None of this news about Medicare costs bodes well for seniors on fixed incomes.

But you can take steps to potentially lower your Medicare costs next year.

Switch to a Cheaper Plan During Open Enrollment

Medicare open enrollment is going on now through Dec. 7. It’s your annual opportunity to review your current coverage and explore other plans that may work better — and cost less.

As a quick reminder, you can get your Medicare coverage in one of two ways:

  1. Original Medicare: Includes Part A and Part B. Administered by the federal government. Most enrollees also purchase a standalone Part D drug plan administered by a private insurer. Some people also purchase private supplement insurance called Medigap.
  2. Medicare Advantage: An all-in-one health care plan administered by a private insurer. It bundles Part A, Part B and (usually) Part D benefits.

Medicare offers an online plan comparison tool where you can shop for different Part D drug plans, Medicare Advantage plans and Medigap supplement plans.

You’ll enter your zip code and any financial help you might be receiving — such as Medicaid — and the tool will show you all the available plans in your area.

If you’re in the market for a new Part D plan, you can also enter your prescription drug information and select up to five preferred pharmacies for customized estimates on your out-of-pocket drug costs.

Pro Tip

Make sure to accurately enter all the medications you take into the Medicare.gov tool, including the dosages, quantity and frequency. Leaving out these details can result in incorrect cost estimates.

You can review up to three different Part D or Medicare Advantage plans side-by-side and filter results by star ratings and available benefits.

The private insurance companies that run these plans change coverage and costs every year. They might drop coverage for certain prescription drugs or change their pricing structure for different services.

As a result, you might be paying significantly more for health care just by sticking with your current coverage.

Make sure to carefully review details on any plan before signing up.

If you enroll in a Medicare Advantage plan, you still have to pay your Part B premiums. Some Advantage plans advertise to pay a portion of the Part B premium in the form of a “giveback.”

That might sound enticing — especially with Part B premiums on the rise.

Tread carefully, though. Giveback benefits aren’t available in all areas. Even when they are, you’ll be restricted to a local network of doctors, and you’ll need to consider other out-of-pocket costs, like deductibles. Some Medicare Advantage plans offering a Part B reduction may not include prescription drug coverage.

You can find Medicare Advantage plans with a giveback benefit by using the Medicare plan finder tool, and checking the details page for each plan. However, finding the exact amount of the reduction may be difficult. You’ll likely need to read through plan documents or call the plan provider.

See If You Qualify for a Medicare Savings Program

Older Americans with low incomes can qualify for financial assistance from Medicare Savings Programs (MSPs).

These programs help millions of people pay Medicare premiums and may also cover your deductibles, coinsurance and copayments if you meet eligibility requirements in your state.

Only about half of Medicare beneficiaries eligible for MSP are currently enrolled in one, according to CMS. That makes sense — signing up for these programs can be confusing and difficult.

Pro Tip

Learn more about MSPs, including income limits and eligibility requirements, by visiting this page on Medicare.gov.

Medicare also offers a prescription assistance program called Extra Help for beneficiaries with limited incomes and resources.

If you qualify and enroll in Extra Help, you’re guaranteed not to pay more than $3.95 for each generic drug or $9.85 for each brand-name covered drug.

To see if you qualify for Extra Help and start an application, click here.

Talk to a Trained Nonprofit Volunteer

It’s time-consuming to compare different Medicare plans and pick one that works for you. But with open enrollment closing Dec. 7, time is of the essence.

Thankfully, there’s a nonprofit organization that can help.

It’s called the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP), though some states give it a different name (such as SHINE in Florida or SHIBA in Idaho).

Each SHIP is made up of a network of trained volunteers who provide 1-on-1 counseling about Medicare benefits.

The program isn’t connected to insurance companies or health plans, so the advice you receive is free and unbiased. No one will try to sell you something or bombard you with annoying calls.

Plus, any Medicare beneficiary can utilize the program because there aren’t any income limits or restrictions.

To get started, call your state’s SHIP information line (click “SHIP locator” on the organization’s home page for a list of each state’s phone number).

You’ll get connected to a SHIP volunteer who can help you compare plans, answer your questions and even help you enroll in a Medicare Savings Program if you qualify.

Rachel Christian is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance and a senior writer for The Penny Hoarder.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

Dear Penny: Can My Husband Stop His Brother From Stealing His Inheritance?

Dear Penny,

My husband's brother took their mother to his accountant to make sure her mutual funds, stocks and banking accounts were being taken care of and that nobody would be able to extort money from her. She is wealthy. The will stated everything was to be split equally, half and half. 

She has two homes. My husband’s brother has taken one of the homes and lets his mother-in-law reside there rent-free. 

Now my husband has discovered that his brother is 100% beneficiary to certain IRAs and insurance claims. Both my husband and his brother were adopted. They don't see eye to eye. Their mother said my husband’s brother would never not give my husband his half of his inheritance. They have avoided each other, as we didn’t hold family gatherings due to COVID-19. 

Is my husband’s brother able to keep him from his half of their inheritance? His brother has made himself the executor of the will and power of attorney, or something. 

I feel they should have gone together to the CPA. My husband won't listen to me. Am I in the wrong? 

-C.

Dear C.,

I’m not sure what you’re asking of your husband, or why you think you might be in the wrong. But I can’t imagine why your mother-in-law would leave everything to one sibling if she wanted both of her children to split things 50/50. And if your husband is counting on his brother’s goodwill to get an inheritance, he’s in for a rude awakening.

I’m also a bit confused about what role the accountant played in this situation. Typically, you’d need an attorney to draft legally binding documents, like a will or a trust.

But your mother-in-law isn’t required to split everything down the middle. In fact, she doesn’t have to leave your husband anything at all. It certainly sounds like your brother-in-law is being sketchy here. But sometimes parents have good reasons for leaving one sibling a greater share of their estate. For example, if one child cared for them in their later years or one sibling has greater needs than the others, a parent may choose not to distribute things evenly.



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It’s possible to contest a will during the probate process after someone dies, but this is an uphill battle. Usually, you’d have to prove that the person lacked the mental capacity to make or change their will, or that they signed the will because of fraud or undue influence. You can also argue that the will wasn’t properly signed or witnessed in some cases.

I should note that some of the assets you mentioned, like IRAs and life insurance policies, pass through beneficiary designation rather than probate. That means whoever is listed as the beneficiary receives them regardless of what the person’s will states.

But disputing a will is a long and expensive process. Most people who mount a challenge will lose.

A better option would be for your husband to talk directly with his mother and brother about his concerns. That means your husband will have to re-establish communication with his brother. They don’t have to become best friends, but they will need to be cordial. Sometimes parents avoid discussing estate planning with their children when they know the siblings’ relationship is strained.

I think your husband is most likely to be successful if he doesn’t approach the conversation from a position of entitlement. This isn’t about making sure he gets his half. The discussion should be about making sure they understand their mother’s wishes.

Then, your husband can suggest that his mother meet with an experienced attorney to make sure her estate plan is structured in the best way for ensuring that those wishes are carried out. I’m sure an estate planning attorney would tell your husband’s mother the pitfalls of leaving everything to one sibling in hopes that they’ll split the inheritance with the other. The attorney may also suggest appointing a more neutral party as the executor of the will.

But that will be between your mother-in-law and her attorney. It’s important to understand that any attorney’s ethical obligation in this situation is to your mother-in-law. Their job isn’t to make sure your husband or his brother get the inheritance they think they deserve.

Your husband can try to foster a discussion. He can try to make it as transparent as possible to avoid disputes with his brother. But ultimately, these aren’t your husband’s decisions. This is your mother-in-law’s money, not his. You and your husband will need to live with whatever choices she makes.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to  or chat with her in The Penny Hoarder Community.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

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