Death Money

So an elderly relative was diagnosed with a terminal disease a couple months ago (sad emoticon seems a little trite). In trying to cope with whats happening to them, they’ve apparently decided to start sending sizable chunks of money to my brother and I, every month. It has nothing to do with an inheritance, per say, but rather just something she wants to do.

for a little more background: i’m currently living in a nice apartment in a rather exclusive quartier of Paris. I’m a full-time student and my immediate family provides for all my needs from clothing to new furniture to vacations.

so now i’m about to start accumulating this totally unexpected ‘death money’ and i don’t know what to think (other than to be genuinely depressed) except that anything remotely superficial I might buy with this money will end up gnawing at me for the foreseeable future. At the same time, I kinda get the impression that the intention behind the gesture is to actively do what she can to cause us to be a little be happier than otherwise might be the case.

One last side-note: for what its worth, I started a charity for at-risk kids a few years ago and have managed to grow it into a reasonably strong productive little organization which has a measurable impact on the community with which we work. It has, of course, occurred to me to put this money into that project but that idea feels just as hollow, meaningless and perhaps even just as selfish as anything else that has occurred to me.

so if anyone happens to have ideas for healthy choices for my ‘soul’ i’m very open to ideas. the challenge is, to find a positive use (I think just letting the money accumulate would be hurtful) that also satisfies whatever desire my dying relative may have had in making this peculiar (or perhaps this isn’t so uncommon?) gesture.

Simplest short-term solution: put it into savings until you’re better removed from the current emotional situation or until you get a clear inspiration as to the best use of the money. I know you said letting it accumulate is “hurtful,” but you’re not hoarding it. It’s setting it aside until you figure out the best use for it. Use the time to investigate philanthropic interests, or figure out where in your own life the money would do the most good.

It’s a windfall to be sure, but I imagine in the long run you’d be more satisfied to know that you took the time to use the money wisely, instead of just giving it away immediately and perhaps making some mistakes.

I’ve had a couple of significant others in this situation, incidentally. It seemed that the main idea behind the relatives’ gestures was that money is meant to be spent, and it’s better to give it to those who will find it more useful. Nothing grandiose, really. My ex-fiancee was specifically told to not spend her money on philanthropy, believe it or not… her grandfather had already given a ton in her name to her favorite charities as well as tons to his own favorites. He wanted her to be able to enjoy the fruits of his labor. You might want to ask your relative what her goal is.

Set some of it aside and spend it later after you’re able to process things. Give some to charity (you got that covered), do something fun with a little of it and tell your relative about it, maybe send her pictures as part of a thank you note. Let her have some vicarious fun through you.

My father’s father died at 65; my grandmother owned her (very large) flat, her retirement was very good and their last child had moved out of the house the previous year. For the next 23 years, any time that her savings reached 500K pesetas she’d split it five-ways among her five children. The first time she did this, the children tried to reject it: “but what if you need it, but it’s your money, but…” She pointed out that she didn’t need it, that if she ever got sick enough that her income couldn’t cover her needs she’d be asking them to help her, and that if she put it away and they didn’t get it until she died, Uncle Government would take a chunk - by making it a gift while still alive, Uncle Government kindly stayed the hell away. She eventually did end up asking her children for economic help, for all of her nine final months.

Since you don’t need it now, put it away, but there’s nothing wrong with getting a freely-given gift from your relatives. Eventually it can be the payment on your car, or the downpayment on a home, or seed money for a business, and then I think you should offer your relative a toast and a thanks for this gift.

I missed the edit window, but maybe spend some of the money on something that your relative really enjoys and tell her about it. Also, give some of the money to a cause dear to your relative in her name.

I’ve enjoyed reading everyone’s responses thus far, it’s starting to sound like this situation isn’t altogether rare but rather I’m simply too young to have encountered anything like it before.

I particularly liked Student Driver’s last idea…ask her. I’ve been so weirder out by this that the most straightforward answer didn’t even occur to me:

I’m not thrilled with the prospect of having this conversation. I do talk to her frequently, even about her situation, but something about this money really troubles me.

Each country’s tax laws are different, but here in the US these kinds of transfers become taxable if they get bigger than a certain threshold. A quick check of your local tax laws would be good idea before your relative surprises herself by getting afoul of the tax authorities.

Everyone who’s ever inherited money after a death wonders a bit about what’s the “right” thing to do or how to feel about the money. It seems disrespectful to use it to buy a subway ticket or groceries. But …

All money is interchangeable. You can’t really separate the money you got from an inheritance or gift from the money you get from your work or from your parents. Ultimately, your ability to spend from one account is linked to your ability to not spend from another.

So think well of the person, alive or dead. Be grateful for whatever you get, but don’t try to build a shrine out of Euros.

Well why do you give gifts? Probably to make someone else’s life a little bit happier, if only for awhile. Look no one likes to think about dying, but it’s gonna happen to all of us.

Your relative wanted you to have that gift, that makes him or her FEEL better. Having a terminal illness must be quite an ordeal. That gift makes that person feel a bit better and take their mind of dying.

To feel guilty about enjoying money someone gave you so you COULD ENJOY your life, isn’t a fitting tribute to them or their memory.

Trust me if they didn’t want you to have that money, you can bet you wouldn’t see any of it. So take the gift and use it in a way that celebrates that person’s life.

wow. This makes way too much sense. That is to say, it seems quite probable Granny is far more rational than I had given her credit for. She lives in Canada where there is no Inheritance Tax per-say but based on some quick googling I think there is good chance that this whole death money thing is a product of smart estate planning.

I feel waaay less creeped out now, thanks!!!

I was in a similar situation about ten or twelve years ago. My grandmother was declining in health and knew that she would not need her money for her own needs much longer. So she decided to split most of it up and give it to her children and grandchildren as a “pre-inheritence” gift. Of course, everyone followed all necessary tax regulations, but it was done so that this was not a big deal.

I used my share to pay off my car loan.

My parents gave me some money before they died and I swore I wouldn’t spend it while they were alive, in case they ever had bad luck and had to ask for it back. Then they died and I inherited some more. I still haven’t spent any of it. I guess my kids or some charity will get it or I’ll have bad luck and spend it.

Even if this wasn’t what she intended, I don’t think it would be a bad thing if you used the money on a trip to visit her and make the most of the time she has left.

Wow. Maybe the forum description for IMHO needs to be updated by adding “this is the forum to use for sneak-bragguing.” Sure has been a lot of it lately.

Also, OP, since you are such a delicate flower that an old relative sending you money has you all a-dither, I wouldn’t want to give you advice for fear that you faint from the very idea.

Threadshitting, Exhibit #1,286,933
Don’t sweat it, shellyg. You’re better off finding a competent tax attorney.