The Moneyist: My brother-in-law, 59, lives off his parents and borrowed $60K from them — can we force him to repay it?

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Dear Moneyist,

My brother-in-law has never really had a job very long in his life.

He is now 59 years old and his mother just gave him $60,000 so he can still live. Mom and dad have been paying him $2,500 a month for 10 years — and now this. After receiving the money he was supposed to use for an apartment (in Pasadena, Calif.) he moved to Palm Springs to live with his two other buddies for free.

Also see: ‘He emptied our joint account!’ — three husbands and one boyfriend tried to steal this woman’s money

My wife’s family has always said that any money received by the children will be deducted from their share of their inheritance. She had a heated conversation with her mother and brother and now my wife feels cheated, especially after discovering that all this time he has been living more off their mom and dad. My wife is the family executor when mom passes.

What would the best direction my wife should take when her mother passes?


Dear John,

Everyone is on a different path. Some people are more deserving than others. Some are in more need of financial and emotional support than others. Parents treat children based on a variety of factors, and they don’t always seem fair to the remaining siblings. Life isn’t fair. Families are not fair. Families are often built on stony ground. It’s up to us what to attach to and to detach from. I suggest that your wife does the latter. I have at least one good reason: She doesn’t have much choice in this.

There are other reasons your wife should move on that are not related to her sense of justice. This money does not belong to your wife, it belongs to your in-laws. They’ve worked hard for it, they’ve raised their children and — despite their faults — they’ve loved them in their own way. You may be right about your brother-in-law. He may be all of those things you say. We never know what people are dealing with when we look at how their life has turned out. It’s really none of our business.

Don’t miss: ‘I’m by no means a gold digger, but I feel jerked around’ — he lived with his elderly friend for 16 years and suspects he’s broke

Finally, your wife has said her piece. If your mother-in-law wanted this money to be deducted from her son’s inheritance, she will make such provisions in her will and/or ensure that the $60,000 is notarized as a personal loan that can be taken into account when the estate goes through probate. She appears to have done none of these things. In other words, it’s a gift. Your mother-in-law is free to give gifts — monetary or otherwise — to whomever she pleases.

If your mother-in-law gives your wife a diamond necklace, she is under no obligation to give every sibling a gem of equal value. If she helps you with your children’s college education, there is no rule to say she must give the same amount of money to your brother-in-law to even the score. Your wife appears to be upset that her brother is unable to stand on his own two feet and that he cannot seem to live his own life. Your wife has achieved former, but the latter is often harder to achieve.

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Hello there, MarketWatchers. Check out the Moneyist private Facebook group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas: inheritance, wills, divorce, tipping, gifting. I often talk to lawyers, accountants, financial advisers and other experts, in addition to offering my own thoughts. I receive more letters than I could ever answer, so I’ll be bringing all of that guidance — including some you might not see in these columns — to this group. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

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