This won't end well and it's really not helping anyone
April 29, 2012 6:26 PM   Subscribe

I believe that my parents are about to make a terrible financial mistake by purchasing a house for my sister. When I bring up my objections, they assume it is because I am jealous and they get defensive. How can I express my concerns in a way in which they will listen, and not just brush my concerns off?

My sister is 35 and she suffers from untreated depression and social anxiety. She is able to hold down a $12/hour job. She is not able to do simple things, like go to a coffee shop or a movie alone. Mentally, she seems much like a teenager because she simply lacks the life experiences that most of us have experienced by that age. She still wants to go out, though, and depends on my parents to pick her up and take her out to lunch, to the lake, etc. She tends to be manipulative in that regard. She is a smart person -- has a college degree -- but the anxiety has overshadowed that potential.

My parents are in their late 60s. My dad has stage 4 metastatic prostate cancer. My mom suffered a stroke that has left her blind in one eye. Because of these challenges, they recently downsized to a smaller ranch house.

My sister soon started telling them (and me) that she would like a house too and that we should make arrangements to get her one. I declined. My parents are eyeing a $170,000, 1500 sq-ft, 3-bedroom villa in a gated community for her. Obviously, with her income, my sister can only afford about $600/month. My parents would be responsible for the rest as well as the association fees. They would also need to take care of all repairs and maintenance on the house, inside and out. (My parents also gave her a 5-year old SUV and they change the oil, air up the tires, vacuum it out for her, etc., for example ... she can't handle going to Jiffy Lube or dealing with a mechanic on her own.)

My parents do not have much in savings, although they own their own house outright. I am concerned about three things: 1.) The financial implications for my parents, 2.) The additional responsibility of caring for a second house 3.) What happens when they can't take care of my sister any more? I have two young children and would not be in the position to pay for the house/take care of maintenance and repairs.

I cannot approach my sister because she will literally start crying and screaming (she has gotten physical in the past with me, pushing and shoving). How can I express my concerns to my parents, who see buying my sister a house as a way to ensure her happiness?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (33 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds like they are all adults and know what they want to do. Feel free to keep voicing your concerns, but really if it doesn't jeopardize your financial situation then I don't know why you think it's any of your business.
posted by hermitosis at 6:29 PM on April 29, 2012 [6 favorites]

There is nothing you can do here. You've said what you can say, and they weren't able to listen. I'm sorry.
posted by batmonkey at 6:31 PM on April 29, 2012

I wonder if your parents might be open to meeting with a trust lawyer or a case manager? To me, the problem is not that your parents are buying your sister a home, the problem is that they have not done the math re how to best care for your sister over her lifetime. If they are really trying to create a safety net for your sister, they should be meeting with a trust lawyer, and thinking about investments that will help her over the next 40 to 50 years.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 6:37 PM on April 29, 2012 [46 favorites]

Wow. That's horrible. I would suggest to them a cheaper, smaller thing like a condo that will be easier for her to maintain. It's never easy to talk to people about their own death.

It's hard being the functional, independent sibling watching an entitled sibling take advantage of aging parents. I really feel you there. I'm so sorry. I spoke to my father about it once and he said that parents aren't fair, they help the child who seems to need it more. Maybe that will help.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:38 PM on April 29, 2012 [9 favorites]

Could you talk to an estate planner or financial type about your parents setting up some sort of trust that would own the house, rather than your sister outright?
posted by Ideefixe at 6:39 PM on April 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

Good luck with that one!

Your only hope would be to convince your parents that this is not a long term solution to her housing problems. What will happen if they die before the mortgage is paid off? What happens if she loses her job? Who will take care of taxes, insurance, repairs and maintenance, cleaning, etc. after their gone?

If she is that handicapped in her daily life, it sounds like they should be setting up some sort of trust for her where she can live, in a small place, and have all the bills, mortgage payment, taxes, insurance on auto-pay, and a cleaning service that will care for her after they are gone. Spending money on a big house is not a solution.

I'm getting a real disconnect here though????
How is it she was able to go to college and can handle a $12/hour job, yet can't take care of her own car?

What does she do for paying bills, buying clothes, cleaning house?
posted by BlueHorse at 6:40 PM on April 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

I wonder if your parents might be open to meeting with a trust lawyer or a case manager? To me, the problem is not that your parents are buying your sister a home, the problem is that they have not done the math re how to best care for your sister over her lifetime. If they are really trying to create a safety net for your sister, they should be meeting with a trust lawyer, and thinking about investments that will help her over the next 40 to 50 years.

In fact, I would even offer to put them in touch with one, and also to do what you can to get your sister into some kind of therapy or treatment for whatever her is going on with her mentally.
posted by empath at 6:45 PM on April 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

It sounds like your sister (and your parents) expect you to take care of her financially after your parents are dead. I would absolutely concur with the "why not stand your parents--and your sister if her social phobia is up to it, but not if not--to a meeting with a fee-only financial planner so your parents can get the best advice on how to manage things so that their estate can maintain your sister without you having to fund her" advice. (Presuming that you don't want to fund her, of course.)

I am sorry you are having to deal with all of this in such a stressful time for you, given the seriousness of your father's illness. Also, I just want to say that it's kind of a crappy hand that the universe has dealt you that your sister's illness clearly takes up so much of the emotional bandwidth of your family.

There is so little space in the world where one can vent about cosmic unfairnesses like this without people thinking you're blaming your sister for being ill or your parents for wanting to take care of her, but this is one place you don't have to be the good soldier. I'm sorry things worked out the way they did, and that you have to do so much of the heavy lifting because of your sister's illness. You are a good egg to be so focused on things working out as well as possible, rather on than what a drag all of this to deal with is at a time when you probably want to be spending quality time with your dad.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:49 PM on April 29, 2012 [16 favorites]

Can they buy the house in their name, and then have her pay them rent? When they die, she inherits, but they're more in control that way.

And if she can't look after herself, 3 bedrooms is way too much house.
posted by kjs4 at 6:50 PM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Would it be a good option for your sister to be in some kind of assisted or group living arrangement? I agree that it would be prudent for your parents to plan for her continued supervision and care after their passing if they are concerned about her ability to live independently. Making provisions for her care in an assisted situation may make more sense than buying her a large-ish house and leaving her in the position of homeownership if she has trouble with independent tasks.
posted by anonnymoose at 6:56 PM on April 29, 2012

P.S. I'm sorry to hear about your father's cancer. Best wishes to you and your family right now.
posted by anonnymoose at 6:57 PM on April 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think hermitosis is flat out wrong. "I don't know why you think it's any of your business." maybe it's the poster's business BECAUSE IT'S HIS/HER IMMEDIATE FAMILY and they're about to make a horrible mistake??

I say you should keep being persistent. Show them the #'s. Show them how this will not and can never work -- and be clear that you will not be there to pick up the tab when they pass.

Furthermore, along with the money issue, your sister simply does not need a house. I would go so far as to say she does not DESERVE a house if she can't function as a normal adult human being. She should be living in a 1-room apartment or efficiency, possibly even a group home if her psychological problems have left her effectively disabled (which seems to be the case).

Keep it up. Do not give up. Your parents are going to make a big mistake if you do not help them see the way.
posted by imagineerit at 7:03 PM on April 29, 2012 [8 favorites]

Mom and Dad, I'm worried about the financial structure you're setting up. It would be emotionally and financially devastating to Sister if she were to have a house, and lose it. Also, she may need to be on disability at some point, and home ownership could be a problem. The accountant gave me these names of experts in structuring finances for someone who needs help. Putting money in trust for Sister, and having the trust pay for a small house could give her real longterm financial stability. I know you want to make sure she's got a good chance to be happy and healthy.

Get some names of attorneys who work with trusts for disabled children. They can make it work a lot better. My family went down this road; I have a disabled sibling, on disability. There is no resentment because we all understand the disability; we just wanted to be sure it was planned well.
posted by theora55 at 7:11 PM on April 29, 2012 [21 favorites]

Posting as a sock puppet because I have a sibling in a similar situation (age,mentally ill, has used a lot of resources of a parent)...and I don't want to hurt the feelings of these family members so the sock will talk.

I would also do whatever it takes to convince your parents because ....what happens if they can't pay for their own bills?

As I mentioned, I have a sibling in a similar state. Cannot hold down a job and is also mentally ill (I'm guessing your sibling is in the same state because of some of your comments).

If you are in the US, try to have your sibling evaluated (these may not be the correct words) for SSI disability and medicaid. It took my sister approximately a year to get it but they provide money for housing and health care. They also have social workers etc who can work with your sister once she is in the system. There is no way as you realize taht your parents can pay those bills for your sister for the rest of her life. They also have lawyers who will help someone like your sister and even if she can't afford, take a few from what she is initially paid.

Coincidentally, there was recently money that came to a few family members (inheritance). A trust will be set up for her (as others mention), but this money can be used to supplement and help her get the things that she needs. A lawyer sets this up.

I'm wondering if your parents are even aware of this possibility (vs a house, because even if it were liquidated....she can't pay bills for the rest of her life). I would try to give them the information. NAMI is a resource that should have meetings as well as literature about this ....this is not uncommon.

I don't know ifI can provide much additional info but do feel free to memail me...I had (and sometimes still have) the same concerns.
posted by Dances with sock puppets at 7:28 PM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

From the OP:
Hello, OP here. Thank you for all of your responses. I hadn't thought of meeting with a trust lawyer -- that sounds like an excellent idea. To elaborate on a couple of questions, it's my business because I love my parents and any additional stress negatively affects their health. My mom's stroke was caused by a blood pressure spike while she was under a lot of stress. Also, when my parents are no longer able to do so, the balance of the monthly mortgage payment and the maintenance and repair of the house and car would fall to me, I assume. My parents are also the type to "go without" if they get wrapped up in providing for my sister.

As far as my sister's college goes, it took her about 4 different colleges and several years but she did get a degree. She even got As in almost every single class because she would stay in her single room/apt and study all of the time. Books and animals are her thing. She spends hours poring over the animal shelter web site and that's another reason why my parents think she needs a house -- so she can get a dog/cat. Her current apt. does allow pets, but she really wants a house with a yard. She has enough books that they would take up one bedroom on their own.

She is able to shopping for groceries and clothes. For some reason, she can't go out to eat by herself, or hit up a museum by herself -- stuff like that. My parents still take her on their modest state park vacations. My parents say that not handling responsibility is "just the way she is" and that she doesn't deserve to be sad her entire life. They are really hoping to make her happy with the house purchase. I feel like happiness is not necessarily what you have, it's more of a state of mind. I believe that my sister is unhappy because she suffers from depression and anxiety, not because she doesn't have a house. I don't want them to get themselves into a financial bind because their attempts at being good and kind backfire. :( I am not jealous at all -- my husband and I wouldn't take their money if offered and we're doing just fine on our own.
posted by jessamyn at 7:30 PM on April 29, 2012

I think all you can do is suggest your parents talk to an estate lawyer and make it very clear that while you love your sister, you do not equate love with paying bills and you will not be picking up the slack in the event that your parents are unable or unwilling to do so.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:36 PM on April 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

I think hermitosis is flat out wrong. "I don't know why you think it's any of your business." maybe it's the poster's business BECAUSE IT'S HIS/HER IMMEDIATE FAMILY and they're about to make a horrible mistake??

I said the OP was welcome to keep voicing concerns. But they are not likely to be welcome, because these other family members seem to need each other in very specific (if not particularly healthy) ways, and they all seem to be getting what they need from the situation. It's an interesting symbiotic exchange of attention and control and caring for each other, and that's probably just the way those people will always relate to each other.

If she was actively stealing from them or scamming them I'd understand butting in, but so far this isn't anything like that.

the balance of the monthly mortgage payment and the maintenance and repair of the house and car would fall to me, I assume.

Why do you assume this? It sounds to me like all you really know is in this situation, you would be able to resist stepping in and take responsibility for fixing things. That's a you thing though. So far no one has asked you for anything.

My dad goes into fits thinking everyone is making reckless decisions that are going to end up costing HIM lots of money... but in the end no one ever does. Doesn't stop him from fuming over it though.
posted by hermitosis at 7:43 PM on April 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

correction: you would NOT be able
posted by hermitosis at 7:43 PM on April 29, 2012

It might help if you framed this to your parents as this being something that could potentially hurt you.

I've been in a similar situation. What I said, and what seemed to work, was that even as they assured me that they had set up my sister for life, it all depended on them. They said they would turn over those responsibilities to a responsible cousin so I would not have to be emotionally involved in her finances. Which was kind, in its own way, but didn't address the meat of the problem. The fact is that I'm her sister and I DO care about her life. It's important to me to know that she is going to be taken care of, and if. It's one thing to have occasionally interruptions for illness or to change some routines to accommodate sister (every Sunday we go to the store, every Tuesday evening we go to movie, etc. But once she becomes your dependent, the entire game changes. ''

Your parents are making some shortsighted decisions for the noblest of reasons. Maybe you can help them think it through backward from the goal of sister living in her house. Who pays for what? What arrangements need to be made in order for those payments to be met if part of her support system can no longer contribute? Sit down with them and troubleshoot all possible scenarios. Don't make it about, "I hate watching you guys ruin yourselves financially because it means in 4 or 5 years, I might well have to take care of you all. And I can't because I have my own family to take care of.

Instead of buying the house, find a good rental and set her up with a trust that will pay her rent, utilities, and some savings. She can use her work income for food and clothes and gas.

A trust is a great idea. She doesn't need to own a place--she can rent a nice studio
posted by elizeh at 7:48 PM on April 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

You need to speak to your parents about estate planning. You are right, this is going to fall to you in some way eventually, and a less expensive house plus a trust might be the right idea, or just a trust, or -- whatever it is, I don't know, and you don't know, and honestly your parents don't know either, because they also are not knowledgeable about this.

I am in a very similar situation (disabled sister supported by aging though not ill parents who I am going to end up having to take care of); please feel free to memail or email me if you want to discuss this.
posted by jeather at 7:53 PM on April 29, 2012

You know, it truly sounds to me like your parents have made your sister what she is today. Asking them to stop now at this latest escalation really is a waste of breath. Go with the trust lawyer idea, and try not to make yourself too crazy over this trainwreck. Question though: Is this a community that she picked out? There seems to be a mismatch between what you said about her & where you say she's headed. Maybe it's her dreaming big & your parents kowtowing, but a minority of braincells are suspicious: Is she's getting railroaded from "I want to own a home" straight into their daydream of where they think their daughter should be?
posted by Ys at 7:56 PM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I second/third/etc the idea of estate planning. do what you can to protect your parents and YOU!

But I do have another question: how do you know your sister suffers from depression if it's untreated? Has she been evaluated by a psychiatrist recently? I am not a psychiatrist, and so my opinion is just an opinion based on my own experience, but I was married so someone who acted a lot like the way you describe your sister (minus the pushing and shoving). He was evaluated by several psychiatrists and psychologists and none of them said he had any biochemical issues that could be the root cause of his behavior, nor was he suffering from depression.

Some people are just lazy and manipulative.
posted by luneray at 8:56 PM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your parents' needs sound greater to me at this point in time, but their needs include your sister's well-being.

So at this stage, you sound to me like the only autonomous adult in your family. It's you who needs professional advice: social worker, psych nurse practitioner, financial advisor, and legal advisor ... to become knowledgeable of your many options.

You have co-dependent parents soon to succumb to dysfunction (based on current diagnoses), and a sister already dysfunctional. Between them, their one and only idea to save themselves is unsuitable, unrealistic and unsustainable. (You're not wrong in that regard.)

It is generally more successful to suggest people don't go ahead with what they're planning if you simultaneously offer more suitable and less risky options.

You need to be frank and supportive with your parents - have them see you in a different light armed with positive suggestions; but you need to be professionally advised in how best to interact with your sister ... new boundaries. You and she will not negotiate a solution without conciliatory assistance (is my guess), but you generally need strategies for the future.

Backyard and menagerie?
too hard basket!
posted by de at 9:12 PM on April 29, 2012

From the OP:
My sister did see a therapist when she was around 20. At that time, they said that she had problems with anxiety, depression and OCD. At that time, the therapist told my parents that my sister did not have the "tools" she needed to be in college. That upset everyone and she quit going to therapy... but her general attitude/demeanor has not changed since then.

And yes, I would feel the pressure to help my sister out if my parents were not able. But my kids' educations would have to come first (I have two kids and the youngest is 2). My sister is the type that if someone weren't around to change the oil in her car, she would just let the engine die rather than take it in herself. I would probably let her take the bus, my dad has to change it for her ....

The pushing and shoving ensued after I showed up to help her move from one third-floor apartment into another third-floor apartment across town. She was upset that I saw her "new" apartment without her when I dropped off some stuff that she had been storing in my garage. Both of my parents have advanced degenerative disk disease in their backs and it's hard for them (at 66 and 69) to carry her furniture 3 flights down and then 3 flights back up again .... but she was so upset that I looked at her "new" place when she wasn't there that she screamed, slammed the door in my face, and said that she only wanted their help. That's the mentality I'm dealing with. That's why I feel protective of my 'rents.
posted by taz at 10:05 PM on April 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

That's the mentality I'm dealing with.

Pure behaviour.
Surely you know (of) a psych nurse, or a nurse working with difficult behaviours? Get some "tools" yourself.
posted by de at 10:26 PM on April 29, 2012

A trust lawyer is a great idea. Also having the house being somehow contingent on getting continued medical care might be something that would truly help your sister more.

Lastly, if she has OCD, hoarding os an aspect of that, which could lead to problems down the line if she gets obsessed with animals and starts hoarding them. This kind of sounds like a perfect storm for animal hoarding to happen.
posted by Vaike at 10:32 PM on April 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

I really want to encourage you to make the boundary now that you will not be taking care of your sister the way your parents have done. This might be the right window into getting your parents to talk with an estate planner or trust attorney or similar.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:54 PM on April 29, 2012 [9 favorites]

I don't know what it's like where you live, but here it's possible to spend between $20 and $50 grand and purchase a modular home in a mobile home park. Unlike the stereotypical grungy trailer parks, most of them are beautifully landscaped, well maintained, welcoming places to live populated mostly by quiet seniors. You usually have to pay $300-$500 per month for rent of your lot. Many allow pets. Often the lots have trees and are close to recreational trails and other naturey things- very helpful for depressive type illnesses.

I suspect that you might not be able to talk your parents out of buying your sister a home. Maybe something like this would be a little more reasonable for their wallets and your sister's needs. I don't really see a single woman needing a 3-bedroom house. With something like this, too, your sister could contribute to it now and afford it in the future.

Also, have you made it clear that you absolutely will not support her when your parents are gone?
posted by windykites at 1:00 AM on April 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

It sounds like your sister has something more than OCD/depression/anxiety. With her quickness to violence and single-minded hobby I would guess that something else is going on that wasn't on the radar of the one therapist she saw 15 years ago. I'm so sorry.

It sounds like your family has narrated her story to make her sound as capable as possible out of hope that they can construct "capableness" for her -- taking hope in what she is able to do, hoping she can build on that, and really missing the opportunity to get her more accurately diagnosed and helped.

It might be helpful to comment on that with your folks, during the estate planning talk. Something like "you guys have all the love in your heart for her, and you've been wanting to build her up --I get that. And she DID graduate college after many years because YOU didn't give up. But she hasn't been able to build on it. And when you're gone, everyone else is going to have higher expectations and less love. They'll expect her to pay her bills. And not lose her temper, and as her sister, I won't be in the same legal position or emotional position to protect her from that."

I feel for your parents. They're from a different generation and probably had legitimate fear for her if she was diagnosed in certain ways. They may have felt her best shot in the world was to be "treated as normal". They may have been right. Or, there may be other resources available to her.
posted by vitabellosi at 1:53 AM on April 30, 2012 [4 favorites]

You need to make it clear that you cannot financially support your sister or support her in terms of looking after her to the extent she appears to require looking after once your parents are no longer able to do so. That won't make you popular with either your sister or your parents but it is the only thing that may get them to consider the big picture and her best long-term financial interests.
posted by koahiatamadl at 5:08 AM on April 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

Perhaps the only thing that you should do here, since they've made up their minds, is to sit down with them and discuss the potential impact on you. That is, to say "I understand you've made up your mind to buy her this house, and while I don't think you're making a good choice, it is the choice you've made, and I respect it. However, there will come a time when I will be the only blood relative responsible for her, and at that time, she still won't be able to support herself, and I know you want me to help her when that time comes. So we either need to make major financial decisions like this together, because it will impact me later as much as it does you now, or I'll have to take steps to protect myself from the decisions you're making. Which will it be?"
posted by davejay at 10:13 AM on April 30, 2012 [6 favorites]

Referral: The Dale Law Firm. He may be able to refer you to a lawyer or case manager in your area.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 7:39 PM on May 4, 2012

Also, have you made it clear that you absolutely will not support her when your parents are gone?

I don't think it's yet been answered that the OP does actually feel this way. How many people wouldn't help their own family, especially when the family member is unable to help themself? (I understand different people have different family dynamics, but really, it's expected the *majority* of us would help a family member out).

I think you need to sit down with your parents and see what kind of financial future they see for your sister. Ask them what they expect you to contribute. If they say "nothing!" ask them how long the mortgage is. It's 30 years? Well, in year 25, who's going to be paying for it? If they say your sister, lay out that it's impossible. If they say you, bring up the difficulties - at this time you'll be sending two kids to college.

I wouldn't say you're NOT going to help your sister - unless you had an actually horrible relationship with your family, I would consider this a bluff (again, that would be *my* personal take) - but discuss the absolute limitations on your help.

I believe that my sister is unhappy because she suffers from depression and anxiety, not because she doesn't have a house.

This too. A house will NOT make her happy. It will likely cause MORE problems - there's not just one landlord to call up for problems. She'll have to deal with the plumber, electrician, etc. herself.

Maybe approach this not in the "why are you giving this to her!?" but "if we're going to give something to her, it needs to be for the best." Maybe see if she can handle renting an entire house for a year....
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 10:09 PM on June 12, 2012

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