The Moneyist: ‘She just drinks the Kool-Aid my sister gives her’: My sister, 60, cries if my mom, 88, does not give her money for her cats, a car or rent

Dear Quentin,

My 60-year-old sister likes to regularly go to my 88-year-old mother for money to take her cats to the vet, buy tires for her car, buy a car to put those tires on, and pay her rent and other bills.  

She calls mom five times a day and texts her constantly. She burdens mom with every type of personal thing imaginable. This sister has always been irresponsible with her finances, but more so since dad passed away seven years ago.  

When my sister needs money, she tells a sad story to mom or another relative, and if they don’t whip out the cash or checkbook, the tears flow. I cautioned mom to not give my sister details of her finances, lest she sell the last of the family silver.

Mom told my sister of this conversation. I’m now in the dog house because I tried to advocate for our mother. I’ve pretty much washed my hands of the matter. My mom and my sister are of the mind that it is I who should be giving them both money.  

I deferred taking vacations so that I could retire. My sister and mother did not defer anything, and they took numerous vacations. Should I just stop worrying about mom?  She just drinks the Kool-Aid my sister gives her.

Tired of the Mess

Dear Tired,

it sounds like your mother is drinking Kool-Aid that she made for herself.

This appears to be a case of old-fashioned sibling resentment (if not rivalry) mixed up with an unhealthy family dynamic where everyone is playing everyone else off one another. You are furious at your sister. You tell your mother you are furious at your sister. She tells your sister that you are furious at her too. And on it goes.

Somebody in this scenario needs to douse the flames of indignation and injustice. It may as well be you. Your sister plays her tiny violin, and your mother and other relatives cough up the money. Don’t play along. Inform your mother that you were trying to help and, if she does not want your help, there is nothing more you can do.

Talk to your mother. If you are sure she is not under coercive control, and is not frightened of your sister or beholden, simply be there for her, and refrain from interfering in her relationship with your sister. From what you say in your letter, and that is all I have to go on, this does not rise to the level of elder abuse. 

Somebody in this scenario needs to douse the flames of indignation and injustice. It may as well be you.

I have received so many tales of elder abuse — stories of parents who were dependent on adult children who in turn used their position of power to bleed their parents dry, or of elderly people who suddenly had a “new best friend” or companion who isolated them from loved ones in order to take over their estate. 

Sometimes, the letters come too late. I received one from a mother who signed over her home to her child to “protect it” during a divorce. The child, of course, did not give it back. These are cautionary tales. Adult children sometimes see dollar signs, especially those children who have become accustomed to getting what they want.

With that in mind, tell your mother that she has a certain amount of money to live on, and consider what positive contribution you can make: for instance, pay for an independent adviser who can go over her finances without the prying eyes of other family members. It may, or may not, be enough to give her a reality check. 

Don’t become embroiled in a toxic family dynamic. It will not help your mother or you. Rise above it, and maintain a bird’s eye view on your mother’s life. Be ready to intervene with the help of a lawyer at any attempt by your sister to isolate your mother and/or make unreasonable demands on her savings or, indeed, her home. 

In the meantime, be grateful for the smart financial decisions that you have made. 

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at [email protected], and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.

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