My dad passed away unexpectedly last February at the age 56. My mom, age 52, two siblings, 28 and 23, her nephew, 5, and I miss him very much. My dad had a $300,000 life-insurance policy that my mom was fortunate enough to receive.
With the proceeds she paid off the mortgage, credit cards, and some personal loans. The remainder (approximately $140,000) she deposited into a savings account. She also inherited dad’s retirement savings of $45,000, which is sitting in an IRA.
This past year I have been helping my mom get her arms around her current and future finances. My mom works and receives a net income of $2,000 a month. In helping her, I found that most months she runs a deficit. She will pull from her savings to cover gaps.
My siblings and nephew live with my mom. They don’t pay my mom rent or help out with the bills. I know my siblings experience financial hardships. My mom pays for all utilities and groceries. She also regularly covers their cell phones, car insurance, and child care.
My mom has a very hard time talking about money in general, but especially with them. I’ve suggested several times that she needs to charge them some sort of rent. She immediately clams up and gets very agitated.
My sister, 28, flat-out refuses to pay anything. My brother, 23, says nothing at all. My dad’s view was to help anyone regardless of the cost, a noble thought but not sustainable. My mom wants to honor this, but also ensure she can be independent.
I need help to know how to approach the subject with my mom and siblings. I tried several times to various degrees of success, but nothing has changed. I have been fortunate to have financial stability, which (I feel) makes my family embarrassed and self-conscious about their situation.
Therefore, when I try to help, my siblings think I’m a know-it-all when I’m just trying to impart tools that have worked for me. I feel that this has dragged out long enough. Resentment crops up in me, like when my sister gets a fancy new cell phone or manicure, or pays for her subscriptions.
I need a way to get the message to resonate. My mom can’t continue to support them and we can’t continue to ignore the situation just because it’s uncomfortable. What do you suggest I do?
Caring son and brother
You have identified the major symptoms of your mother’s problem: your siblings and cousin living off your her generosity and, perhaps, her passivity. If she is ignoring her financial problems and/or has the disease-to-please to make everyone happy, you may need a different approach.
I suggest employing a financial adviser who can go through your mother’s accounts objectively. Sometimes, families need an outsider to provide clarity and advice without the familial baggage. A best friend might tell us what we need to hear, but we may only hear it from, say, a therapist.
If you want a different result, you will have to take a different action. Come at this problem from a new angle. Look at the cause and the result rather than the symptoms. Your mother is the cause, not your siblings. They will ride her coattails as long as she allows them to do so.
But even your mother may not have considered the ramifications of her actions. Her retirement and quality of her long-term care are at stake. She needs a new voice to give her tough love: rather than tell her what to do, show her what she will be unable to do in the not-so-distant future.
She is allowing these adult-children to jeopardize her future. When the money runs dry, they will either look for a new mark or wallow in misery together. In her retirement, she will not be able to travel, and do all the things she presumably loves doing. Personal loans will not help her then.
What if she gets sick? We are all temporarily abled: if we are lucky, we will live to an old age and have a good quality of life. But that’s not always the case. An adviser should help make her aware of this. A good scare before bedtime, and a timeline on when the well will run dry may finally wake her up.
Failing that, you cannot live her life for her. Sometimes, the hardest thing to do is to let go.
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