Charging Mom Rent Feels Wrong

Scott says his 77-year-old mother-in-law just moved in with him and his wife. She wants to pay for her keep, but Scott doesn't know how much to ask for. Dave has alternative idea to charging rent.

QUESTION: Scott in St. Louis says his 77-year-old mother-in-law just moved in with him and his wife. She wants to pay for her keep, but Scott doesn’t know how much to ask for. Dave has alternative idea to charging Scott’s mother-in-law rent.

ANSWER: The way I try to answer questions on this show is what would I do if I were in your shoes? You guys can obviously afford for her to stay there. If I were in your shoes, I might accept her gift and do the home repairs because it’s not a lot of money. It’s not a big commitment on anyone’s part. It’s not $100,000—it’s $5,000 or $6,000. I might do that.

If I were in her shoes, I agree I wouldn’t want to feel like a freeloader. I guess we just have to talk it through.

I would be uncomfortable charging my mother-in-law rent. I would want to just do this, and you can afford to. If she wants to give a little bit of a gift, I would probably just say no rent. Then if I were in her shoes, I would probably change my will to leave a larger portion to your wife due to having fed me all these years. I probably would just keep it real clean, in other words, rather than try to get into what is market rent for the mother-in-law. It feels wrong.

If you guys were broke and starving to death and she was unbelievably rich or whatever, we could talk. But you’re doing okay. This is not a real strain on you financially to set another plate at the table. You can get a little bit of stuff fixed up around the house. If it becomes a strain, she can step up. I think if she’s going to imbalance the will, meaning leave a little more to your wife, she probably should tell the boys she’s doing that and why while she’s alive. Kind of have an informal reading of the will while everyone’s alive if she chose to do that. If she doesn’t choose to do that, I still would be fine with her staying.

There’s nothing wrong with her paying some rent. I don’t hear anything wrong with that. It’s just that I’m answering the question what would I do if I were in your shoes? I would just feel weird. If I’m going to let somebody stay in my house like that, I’m probably not charging them. I don’t really want to cash her check every month. That’s just going to make me feel weird. And she can do some stuff from time to time. She can buy a bag of groceries or put some gas in the car when you’re on a trip together or something. She can do whatever she wants to do like that, but I’m not going to sit here and create a lease with my mother-in-law. But again, you can do any of that. None of that would be a bad thing.

I’m repeating that the way I answer questions is what would Dave Ramsey do if I was in that situation? That’s what we would do. If Sharon’s dad, who’s living, wanted to live with us—her mom passed away a couple of years ago—I wouldn’t think of charging him. It wouldn’t even occur to me. He’d be more than welcome to stay. We’ve got plenty of bedrooms, and I just wouldn’t even think about it. He would want to pay his part and all of that, and I’d get the same thing, but if he wanted to come over and hang out with us, I’d love to have him.

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