Monday, May 05, 2008

Case Study: To Give Or Not To Give

Recently I read about some practical steps to take in Live-In situations as against the security of marriages.

The Do’s

1. Hold title to any major purchase in the name of the person/s who is/are actually paying for it
2. Keep finances separate if you want to avoid heated disputes
3. Keep records of your financial contributions to any property held by your partner
4. Keep the property you inherit or receive as gift separately. Any property given to both of you is legally owned by both of you – this also includes the gifts you receive irrespective of the fact that the person who gave the gift is a friend of just one of you

The Don’ts
1. If you want to avoid legal complications after a break up, you should shy away from putting your money in a common pool. So try and say no to opening joint accounts, incurring joint debts or making joint purchases
2. Don’t allow your partner to hold title to major purchases in his or her name alone if both of you are paying for that property
3. Don’t co-sign or guarantee debts that are incurred by your partner unless you intent to be equally responsible for paying them back, even after your break-up
4. Don’t become so financially dependent on your partner that you limit your ability to support yourself in the future. Keep your skills and contacts in the job market.
- Asha Nayar Basu in Your Rights in Marie Claire, May 2008

Having read the above , I began to ruminate on the plight of my mashi (aunt) who is in her early seventies, is living a retired life with her husband in Kolkata. They live in their flat in Kolkata with their only son, daughter-in-law and grandson.

In 1971, having returned to India, after years in London, pursuing a Masters and Ph.D, she married a man who was a good match if not better to her intellectual excellence. Both having, returned from abroad, in times when few heard of such things in our Bengali middle-class families, they decided to approach their marriage, with a difference. Both maintained separate Bank accounts. Neither was in any way curious about the salaries drawn by each other, properties bought even after their wedding was in the name of the person who paid for it. There were no joint finances in household management. Rather, they paid for different activities and expenses separately and having come to a consensus on who would bear the cost of that service. What was most important was the fact that, her husband never interfered in her continuous distribution, donation and financial help rendered to the less fortunate in our family.

Naturally, I was taken aback when a week ago, while speaking to her, she announced in some desperation –

“Julu, please send me *&%$#@ rupees. I will tell you all about it when you come…..”

My mashi is a very dignified person. She has always been a giver. She is blessed with both Bank balance as well as a big heart. And everyone knows about it. The house help are the beneficiary of much kindness, in words, deeds and finances from her in their hour of need. Including me, who is forced to receive, because she begins to cry if I don’t!

Naturally I was shocked to hear that statement from her. If she had said it without agitation, I would not be surprised, but her tone sent out warning signals…

I rushed to credit her account with cash. Then I called her son and told him that he is to withdraw the money from the account and give it to her, and allow her to spend the money in whichever way she liked, without any hold. It was not supposed to remain in the account collecting interest and under his supervision.

Yes, his supervision!

All the fabulous partnership principles with regard to finances had gone to the dogs! All rules of the house broken. There was one account into which money from all quarters were put. As far as I know, pension accounts cannot be joint accounts. So, how was it that my mashi had her account joint with her husband and son on either or survivor basis?

Touchy questions cannot be asked. Hence, I maintained a stoic silence about it but guessed that once the pensions come into their individual accounts, my mashi and mesho probably withdraw the money from there and deposit it into the common account, which stands in the names of all of them, with my brother’s name as First Name Holder.

Hence, since neither my mashi nor mesho handle their account and have left such things to their son to do, my mashi has to ask him to give her pocket money! Which, since she generously distributes to her house help, whenever they need it, my brother has STOPPED giving her any money at all.

My question is: Is this what any one can do, to their parents? After all, the money is hers, she is earning it from her pensions. Does he have any right to what she can spend or not spend from that amount? Should parents encourage such behavior? And coupled to that question, the most important one, should parents give their finances, property, jewelry and other precious goods to their children, while they are still in their living bodies?
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