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Money Talk: My ex-wife lent my money to her boss. What can I do?

Dear Liz: I recently found out that my ex lent one of her former bosses $2,500 to get his brother out of jail on bond. My ex took the money out of a joint account that I had opened with the inheritance I got when my dad died. It’s now been four years and I haven’t received a penny of the loan back. I could really use the money now as I have medical bills to pay. Question is who do I go after? My ex or the boss?

Answer: You may have read in this column that inheritances can be kept as separate property, even in community property states where other assets acquired during marriage are generally considered jointly owned.

An inheritance can lose its status as separate property, however, if it’s commingled with joint funds. That’s what you did when you opened a joint account with the money: You gave your ex access to the funds.

You certainly can ask the ex and the boss to give the money back. You could try small claims court if that doesn’t work. You also could hire an attorney, but the costs of trying to get the loan repaid may well exceed the amount at stake.

My parents cut my kid out of their will. (Ouch!) Can I give her some cash?

Dear Liz: My parents wrote my youngest daughter out of their will (my other children were left in). As both parents are now gone, I am in the process of settling the estate. I feel horrible that my parents did this. My daughter is very upset with me and her siblings for not sharing the inheritance. I am under the impression that there is nothing we can do about the will. Having said that, I would like to give my daughter a good amount of money but I believe I can’t give more than $18,000 a year. Am I correct in my two assumptions?

Answer: Yes and no.

Yes, as the executor of the estate, you’re bound to carry out your parents’ wishes as expressed in their estate planning documents.

But no, there’s no limit to how much money you can give someone. Gifts over a certain size — which is $18,000 this year — have to be reported to the IRS. But you won’t owe gift taxes until the amounts you give away over the annual limit exceed your lifetime limit, which is currently $13.61 million.

That said, a large enough gift could have an impact on your own estate. Consider getting advice from your estate planning attorney before you proceed.

Is getting old reason enough to cancel some credit cards?

Dear Liz: Recently, someone asked if closing a credit card would be worth the hassle and you responded that there is no compelling reason to do so and in fact, it might hurt your credit scores. As an older person, I can think of two good reasons: theft and fraud. Many of us of a certain age no longer carry a mortgage or other debt. But, I am finding it harder to keep track of my finances. I would like to cancel three of my five credit cards for that reason.

Answer: You misquoted my response. What I actually wrote was, “If there’s no compelling reason to close a card, you might consider leaving the account open and using the card occasionally to prevent the issuer from closing it.”

Wanting to reduce your risk is reason enough to close a card account. All of us would be smart to consider simplifying our finances as we get older, says Carolyn McClanahan, a certified financial planner and physician in Jacksonville, Fla.

You also might think about who could help you manage your finances as the task gets more difficult. A legal document called a power of attorney allows you to name a trusted person to take over should you become incapacitated. You can familiarize this person with your finances and consider giving them online access to your accounts so they can help you spot fraud, theft or missed due dates. Involving them now, when you can help guide them, is generally better than waiting for a crisis and hoping they can figure everything out on their own.

Liz Weston, Certified Financial Planner®, is a personal finance columnist. Questions may be sent to her at 3940 Laurel Canyon Blvd., No. 238, Studio City, CA 91604, or by using the “Contact” form at asklizweston.com.

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