Whose Money Is It, Anyway?

family silhouetteOne of the money conversations I was a part of over the holidays concerned a family estrangement over money.  A parent was constantly giving money to his adult son and his adult daughter objected repeatedly, saying that if her father was going to give money to her brother he should give her an equal amount.  The result was that the daughter was cut out of the father’s life and the father is still giving money to his son.


The person relaying this unfortunate situation sympathized with both the sister and the father.  The sister had done everything right in her life – college, self-sustaining job – but since her brother appeared to need financial help from their father, she felt that he was being rewarded for being kind of a deadbeat.  But of course, a parent doesn’t want to see his child, adult or not, suffering or going without when he has the means to provide.


It’s not that surprising to me that the relationship between the daughter and father ended after she said that she should be receiving an equal amount of money.  However she really felt about it (maybe she was just trying to make a point), that sounds like greediness and it’s-not-fair whining, as if she were still a child.  The fact is that the father’s money belongs to him and it’s his prerogative what to do with it.  He’s under no obligation to give an equal amount to each of his children, as much as we might think that is the “fair” thing to do.  He’s still alive so it doesn’t matter that he is spending the daughter’s presumed inheritance or whatever.


Could the daughter have had good intentions, though, and would that matter?  Certainly you don’t want to see money being used to damage people – either decimating the father’s savings when he needs it in his old age or hampering the son’s ability and motivation to become self-sufficient.  The father probably is throwing good money after bad by constantly subsidizing his adult son’s lifestyle and not forcing him to learn how to earn and manage his own money.  I don’t know how you would convince either the father to stop giving money or the son to stop asking for/receiving it, but I’m certain that inserting your own interests into the situation would backfire.


Hearing this kind of story helps me a lot because money doesn’t go around completely equally in my family-of-origin and I need occasional reminders that my parents’ money management is their business, not mine.  My parents spent way more money on my education than they spent on my siblings’, but my siblings have not yet become financially independent from my parents.  Sometimes I think my parents would be better off if my siblings successfully launched, but my siblings could turn around and think the same thing about them paying for my private college education.  Ultimately my parents are going to put money toward what they want to so it’s their choice!


What would you have done if you were in the daughter’s place?  Do you think parents should distribute their money equally among their children?  Have you ever tried to intervene in a family member’s poor financial choices?


photo from Free Digital Photos


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22 Responses to "Whose Money Is It, Anyway?"

  1. Mr. PoP’s brother is still highly subsidized by his parents, and while we don’t tell them what to do with their money, when they complain about it, we remind them that he makes plenty to live on, he just needs to learn how to manage his money.
    But that’s as far as we go into the discussion as it’s one of those where the drama is better avoided altogether.
    Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies recently posted..TVP Chili – A Recipe For Your Health And Wealth

    1. Emily says:

      That’s good that you wait for them to bring it up! Say your piece and be done with it. Maybe on one of these iterations they’ll hear!

  2. Ross says:

    My parents would like to give my siblings big chunks of money to buy property. It doesn’t bother me, the only thing im worried about ia that they may run out if money in retirrment. So when I talk to them about it like that, no one gets upset.

    1. Emily says:

      It’s so hard to tell how much money will be needed at the end of life that giving away a lot of money is risky. Maybe your parents could invest with your siblings so they can get a return?

  3. Emily too says:

    It’s such a trade off. I would so much rather have the pride of supporting myself than the cash to match a sibling having trouble, no contest. If the sister were in need and unable to receive the same help I could see where she’s coming from but this seems to me like a “be grateful for what you have” type situation. I know my parents have spent different amounts on me and my siblings at different parts of our lives, but we had/have different needs, and I’m just glad they’ve always wanted to be there for us.

    1. Emily says:

      Your parents are wonderful to meet various needs at different times. I think the issue in this situation is that the sister doesn’t think her brother has a real need but is taking advantage of their father’s good will.

  4. To me, family is family. No matter their mistakes are foibles. And if they need help, you help. And when you need help, they help.
    Edward Antrobus recently posted..And the Winner of the $3k Challenge is…

    1. Emily says:

      I guess that gets into the definitions of need and help, right? The sister thinks that the father’s “help” is actually harming both of them.

  5. Is the sister worried about what would happen if the father spends all the money he should be saving on the brother (i.e. she’d have to take care of the father eventually)? Having recently encountered the kind of headache that can arise when parents have money problems, well, I can’t blame her for her frustration.
    Well Heeled Blog recently posted..How Do You Get Back on the Personal Finance Horse?

    1. Emily says:

      I don’t know her, but if I were in her place it would definitely be on my mind unless the father was extraordinarily wealthy. It’s one thing to support your children through their childhood and quite another to support them in their viable adulthood.

  6. As a Dad I always try to keep things the same between my kids. I remember my siblings getting more than their fair share of generosity from my parents, so now I strive to keep things equal.
    My Money Design recently posted..Our Long Term Financial Goals and How We’ll Meet Them in the New Year

    1. Emily says:

      Unusual! As an oldest child I was always aware that even if my siblings and I received an exactly equal something, I would likely remember that I was not so privileged when I was their ages!

  7. This is a tough one–I tend not to say anything but I also feel discouraged sometimes because my parents do something similar by still (somewhat) spoiling my younger siblings while I’m fending for myself.

    I’ve just taken the approach to adopt an outlook that recognizes how great it is that I’m supporting myself 100% and have been able to completely turn my financial situation around on my own.
    The Happy Homeowner recently posted..2012: Year of the Ballooned Spending?

    1. Emily says:

      I agree on your outlook on the situation. Given that, if you do choose to say something to your parents and siblings it comes from a place of “financial independence is best for all concerned” rather than “why do they get more than I do?”

  8. I can only go by the details you shared here of course, but based on what I’m reading, it seems like the daughter was being unreasonable. Now, generally I think it’s good to be fair to kids, but it’s the father’s money – and if he sees his son struggling, it sounds understandable that he might feel a desire to help him out more.

    Actually, even in cases where an inheritance is concerned, I see it that way too. There is nothing wrong with giving a kid that is struggling more money than a sibling that is very well off. Now, I might not say that if the struggling kid was a bad person, very lazy, or something like that. But if the kid is well-meaning, why not help him more?
    Tie the Money Knot recently posted..Spending Money on Stepchildren

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  11. David W says:

    I’ve never really tried to intervene in family financial decisions except for offering my opinion, but I’m of the opinion that my parents’ money is their money to do with as they please.

    Although not quite the same, I’ve been in similar family situations with money. Up until college my parents were fairly equal in the amount of financial support they gave. During and after college I (the oldest) definitely got the least amount of financial support. I also had a good job during college and worked 20-30 hours per week on average to avoid taking out any loans. When I later found out my siblings had help with rent, phone bills, food, etc that I did not get during college I was a bit annoyed at first but eventually got over it. Feeling entitled to money that’s not mine will only lead to trouble in the long run, even if they did the “fair” thing and gave me an equal share.

    That said, if I felt like my parents were enabling a sibling to be lazy and not take responsibility I would say something, but not in the sense of feeling like they should be giving me more money. Probably something along the lines of “I’m concerned that [name of sibling] is taking advantage of you guys and will only be hurt in the long run if they aren’t forced to take more responsibility for themselves.”
    David W recently posted..Homemade Laundry Soap

    1. Emily says:

      I think that’s a common pattern for children – the younger children may enjoy privileges, including access to more money, than the older children do. Also oldest children tend to be more successful/hard-driving – maybe in your case your parents though you could do it on your own but your siblings seemed to need more help?

      I agree with how you would approach talking to parents about a mooching sibling, although in my family I’ve tried to talk with the siblings first (“Don’t you want to get out on your own?”).

  12. Liquid says:

    Hard to say if the daughter’s actions were justified without knowing their entire family situation. I think both the son and daughter can help each other out. Unless he’s in some kind of special circumstance, any young ordinary man should be able to at least find a minimum wage job if he searches hard enough, and then live off that. No need to ask parents for money unless he needs extra cash for education or something. If the daughter already has a better lifestyle than the son then she should try to help him out. If both of them lowered their expectations of the world around them and spent more time on growing themselves as individuals, then the son would eventually be self sustaining, the daughter would probably make even more money than she is now, and the dad can save more money and have a more comfortable retirement :0) Everyone wins. They have to meet up and talk about it as a family.
    Liquid recently posted..Investing in the Daily Grind

  13. Lucas says:

    I think the best and most accurate perspective to have is that it isn’t either of their money. But it is Gods resources entrusted to a spesific person to use for eternal impact. I can’t say I don’t relate though to the daughter as I have had some of this in my life as well (parents giving more resources to less “successfull” siblings). I think the only way you should bring this up to the parents though would be under the context if – “I don’t think this is helping my brother at all to learn or be independent”. And not from a “Give me mine” attitude.

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