Dear Liz: I inherited half a duplex from my parents. They were partners with my aunt and uncle. When alive, all parties shared expenses for the common areas. I rent out my half of the duplex while my aunt still lives in the other half. My cousins now control my aunt’s finances (she is 94 and in poor health). They refuse to reimburse me for common-area expenses such as painting the exterior (the paint was peeling, exposing the wood, and hadn’t been painted in more than 10 years) and repairing and updating the electrical panel, which had frayed and exposed wires that posed a fire hazard. The panel is on their half of the duplex but serves both units. These costs were about $15,000. What can I do? It’s not fair that I pay for everything when both owners benefit from the necessary repairs.
Answer: Your best hope may be to change your approach. Did you ask your cousins to help you pay for the repairs before you had them done, or only afterward? If they had no input into what was done or how, it’s understandable that they would balk when presented with half the bill.
Of course, they might have balked anyway, and that’s why owning property with other people can get tricky: They often don’t share your opinions about what needs to be done and how much to spend. Some prefer to defer maintenance and repairs indefinitely rather than shell out money to protect their investment. Others understand how important maintenance and repairs are but might want to do some of the work themselves to save money (although do-it-yourselfers shouldn’t attempt an electrical panel upgrade, obviously.)
So your frustration is understandable, but your options may be limited. If you can’t work something out with your cousins, your alternative may be to sell your half of the duplex, but that could require going to court to force a “partition” of the property. You should talk to an attorney familiar with the property laws in your state so you can get an idea of your options and their cost.
Working after retirement
Dear Liz: My profession was one of the hardest hit by the Great Recession. I retired by default when I turned 62 in 2012. My Social Security payment was reduced because I started it early. I’ve found it necessary to return to the workforce part time to move beyond just surviving and have some discretionary funds. What does my employment mean for future Social Security payments?
Answer: You’re past your “full retirement age” of 66, so you no longer face the earnings test that can reduce your Social Security benefit by $1 for every $2 you earn over a certain limit ($17,640 in 2019).
Sometimes returning to work — or continuing to work after you start receiving Social Security — can increase your benefit if you had some low- or no-wage years in your work history. Social Security uses your 35 highest-earning years to calculate your checks. The amounts are adjusted to reflect changes in average wages, which is somewhat similar to an inflation adjustment. If you should earn more this year than you did in one of those previous years, your current earnings would replace that year’s earnings in the calculation and could increase your check.
Another way to boost your benefit if you’ve reached full retirement age but are not yet 70 is to suspend it. That means going without checks for a while, but your benefit earns delayed retirement credits that can increase the amount by 2/3 of 1% each month, or 8% a year. It may not be practical for you to do this: You probably need the money, and you could be too close to 70 to get much benefit. But perhaps that’s not the case for someone else reading this.
Investing books for beginners
Dear Liz: What are the best books for a beginning adult investor?
Answer: “The Little Book of Common Sense Investing,” by the late John Bogle, is a terrific explanation of why low-cost index funds are the best choice for most people (a sentiment shared by legendary investor Warren Buffett, who also endorsed the book). If you want to venture beyond index funds, or even if you don’t, “Investing for Dummies” by Eric Tyson, “Investing 101” by Kathy Kristof and “Broke Millennial Takes on Investing” by Erin Lowry are other good reads.
Liz Weston, certified financial planner, is a personal finance columnist for NerdWallet. Questions may be sent to her at 3940 Laurel Canyon, No. 238, Studio City, CA 91604, or by using the “Contact” form at asklizweston.com. Distributed by No More Red Inc.