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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Question 5

Dear Dr. T.,

    My husband’s father is eighty nine years old. He is very frail and wheelchair bound. To remain at home he needs extensive and expensive home health care. At one time he had substantial financial assets but these are rapidly dwindling due to the cost of his care. Medicare would pay for his care if he was placed in a nursing home, and he would have money left to leave his grandchildren – which is his wish. But he is happy at home and would be miserable in a nursing home. His father’s mind is quite clear and judgment is good, but my husband, who has Power Of Attorney and signs all of the checks,  doesn’t tell him how much his care costs nor that his money is being used up, because he wants his father to be happy and it would make him worry if he knew. He just might choose to give up his expensive care and allow himself to end his days in a nursing home so that his grandchildren could benefit from the money he leaves behind. By not discussing all of this with him are we unfairly denying him the right to self determination? Or are we looking after his best interests?


Dear Conflicted,

    It is clear that both you and your husband care very much for your father-in-law and also that you are caught in an ethical dilemma, as expressed in your question: to allow a man with a clear mind and sound judgment to know what his situation is and to decide his own fate or to shelter him from the truth so that he will continue to be happy at home. There are two opposing values here and your husband has chosen one. A hard choice is being made and far be it for me to question you husband’s choice. One of the things I notice in the story you tell is what is missing. Your father-in-law, despite – or perhaps because of  –  his clear mind and sound judgment has turned over the management of his financial affairs to his son. He is not asking your husband for an accounting of what is being spent. At this stage of life many people want to be taken care of and not to have to make the hard decisions. They don’t want to have to worry about money. I think your husband is doing just what his father wants by making the hard choices for him.

Dr. T.

Question 4

Dear Dr. T.

   I have never admired the way my father used his money because of the way he treated my mother after their divorce, and how he  tried to buy my affection but never seemed to care about who I am or what I want. I do not want to emulate his materialistic orientation and, therefore, have never paid much attention to money. But, I would like to be more secure financially. Now my father wants to give me a large inheritance, but he wants me to use his financial advisor, who doesn’t listen to what I want. I know my father and his advisor are more sophisticated about money than I am, and with this being the only large bequest I may ever get, I don’t want to act foolishly. But I also do want to have my values and wishes as to how I want to use this money respected. What should I do?

Dear Confused

   The reason you are confused has to do with a history of difficult relationship with your father and how he uses his money. How to resolve this can not be answered in a simple advice column. What I can advise is that, if the money you receive is really to be yours free and clear – rather than in a trust controlled by others and if your father’s advisor won’t pay attention to what you  want, you should find another financial advisor you can feel comfortable with and trust. It is also time for you to pay more attention to money and begin educating yourself about it. There are lots of good books having to do with money and investing. I recommend a few on my website
   As for how to deal with your feelings about and relationship with your father, that may call for some therapy. If you decide to go that route, your therapist should be comfortable focusing on money as one of the main focuses of treatment (see Money and Psychotherapy: A Guide For Mental Health Professionals on my website).
Dr. T.

Question 3

Dear Dr. T

   My husband has some money, not a great deal, from an inheritance from his parents. With this and his career he could make ends meet and save some money for his retirement, which may not be too far from now (he is
65 years old).
   He has three children in their thirties and forties, all of whom are capable people but are asking for or accepting money or expensive gifts from their father, which they wouldn’t need if they took responsibility for their own lives. The oldest, for example, did not talk to his father for years because he sold his house, which he no longer was using. This son was annoyed because he wanted his father to keep the house so he could live there, have some part time work and surf. My husband gives his children most of what they ask for.
In my estimation this giving of money and gifts sends the wrong message to his children.  He should not be trying to buy their love. It is apparent that his children want to milk him for his inheritance. I feel he should tell them that he has limited funds, limited time to work and amass money to last him for the rest of his life. He does not appear to want to do this.
   Your take on this whole scenario?


Dear Arl,

   My take on this is that you are understandably dismayed at the how dysfunctional your husband’s relationship with his children is and concerned about his saving for his retirement. But I think that is not the point - which is that this affects you as well. Your husband is enabling his children to remain dependent on him which is, undoubtedly, a lifelong dynamic which would be hard for him to change. But, that should not be your concern. The real question you should be asking is, not how you feel about his and his children’s relationship, but how, in practical terms, it may affect you. The money is not just for his retirement but for your lives together. If there will be less money for the two of you to live on comfortably, after he retires, this is what you should be addressing with him. You have a right to expect him to act responsibly when it affects you. If he wants to be a financial caretaker, maybe you can get him to realize that you and he need to take care of each other financially, and not continue enabling his grown up children who have never learned to be independent.

Dr. T.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Question 2

Dear Dr. T.,

   I have a younger sister who earns four times the money I do at this point in our lives (we are both in our 60's) and we both have the same small but comfortable inheritance which pays us monthly much like an annuity. For all of our lives however, my sister has always, always expected me to give her money. And I used to give her money or my jewelry, furniture, you name it and she was my good long as I was giving her money in one form or another. I am now at an age where I know this cannot go on. Most recently we both received $100,000 from the trust. My sister came to me and asked for $18,000 of mine to help defray the cost she says of re-financing her house. I finally wrote her and said no, that I did not understand why she would ask me for money, that I was in no position to give it to her and that I had good use for my special distribution. She is now not speaking to me. I am sorry I have taken so long to get to the point, but how going forward do I have a relationship with my sister without sending her money?


Dear Lelley,

   It is a very good, but often hard thing to stand up for yourself. So I congratulate you for putting yourself first.
   When you buy a relationship you never get what you want and, worst of all, you lose self respect. So many of us wish to be close to and loved by someone else who does not reciprocate. This is a common dynamic in many families, so you are not alone. We often keep on trying until we are forced to accept that things will not change – and even then it is hard to stop trying. If you could afford to keep on giving money it would still not get you what you want. Now you are doing the right thing. But is there more you could do?
   You ask how, going forward, you can have a relationship with your sister. Well, it takes two to tango. You can let her know that you really do want a relationship, but not one contingent on your giving her things and money. You could also ask if she has ever wanted anything from you other than money or material goods which she has not gotten (the money she asks for may be a substitute for something else). It may take time for her to respond but, if she really cares about you and wants you to be part of her life, she will eventually let you know. If not you have to accept that she is not a part of your life and let her go. That will make you sad but should also leave you feeling better about yourself.

Dr. T.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Question 1

Dear Dr. T.

   Trying to navigate my connection with emotionally-distant/genetically-close relations - 4 young but of-age people raised with little education and now, no money or parents.  Two have requested emergency financial assistance, which I refused.  I feel some responsibility-by-blood but want to keep their expectations realistic and within my means. 


Dear Liz,

   Being asked by relatives for financial assistance is often emotionally wrenching. Family history and culture as well as your own wishes, attitudes and beliefs about money make handling such requests tricky. When one relative has more education and money, the others may be envious, resentful or feel that the person with the advantages should share the wealth. Since you have already decided not to give emergency financial assistance, but also say you want to keep their expectations realistic, it seems you have not really decided what you want to do. I think the problem is that you feel some "responsibility-by-blood" which is in conflict with your wish to protect yourself from what could become unrealistic expectations. To make sure that what you decide to do will not be in conflict with your values or your needs, you need to examine your own beliefs and attitudes about money as well as your concerns about your own financial security.
   I will answer your question with several of my own. I trust that, if you think about these questions, you will find the right solution for yourself.
So, here are my questions. Where did you get the idea that you are responsible for your relatives? Is this a message taught by your parents that you have never questioned?  Was there anyone else, beside yourself, who might have disapproved if they thought you did not want to share your money? Why should you want to help emotionally distant relatives? Do you, perhaps, feel badly that they did not have the same opportunities you had in life, and now no longer have parents to look after them? Do you wish you could be closer to them, and will giving or lending them money accomplish that?
   With regard to your own financial security, have you planned for your future and do you know what you need to do to secure it? If not, you should do so before lending or giving away money to relatives. A certified financial planner should be able to help you make a plan for your future. (I have one and find his help invaluable.) To avoid conflict of interest, I recommend that you find an advisor who charges a fee for his or her time but does not sell any financial products.
   I hope that this will help you to understand your own motivation for wanting to be helpful, as well as your hesitation, and help you to act in your own best interest.

Dr. T.

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