April 13, 2021

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My brother-in-law smokes weed, drinks booze and plays video games. My in-laws pay his mortgage. What happens after they’re gone?

My brother-in-law is just over 40, and he has health issues. He’s also suffering from...

My brother-in-law is just over 40, and he has health issues. He’s also suffering from mental-health issues that have mostly been undiagnosed due to his refusal to see anyone, and essentially he does nothing but smoke weed, drink booze, and play video games.

Right now his parents pay his mortgage, which I believe is in their name, and I assume they pay all of his bills. His dad takes care of maintenance on his house and helps with food and “necessities.” I assume that they also pay for his medical bills, or simply allow them to go unpaid.

This year, my septuagenarian father-in-law had a health scare. My mother-in-law has had some health concerns as well, though nothing life threatening. I fear that my brother-in-law, given his sedate lifestyle, may also face additional health issues as he gets older.

I mentioned to my wife that they should discuss estate plans openly with us. She agreed, but the topic always gets pushed aside with them. Her family doesn’t like to talk about death or money at all. The most we have gotten out of them is that everything is divided in half.

I think that is a great plan on paper, but I see two big issues. First, there is the home which can’t simply be divided in half without being sold, which neither my wife or her brother will really want to do. It is paid off.

The Moneyist:My wife and I have 3 kids. I also have 3 kids from a previous marriage. How should we split our house among these 6 children?

Perhaps in a decade or so, my wife could pay him his half of the house and potentially buy him out, but that raises issue two. Her brother can’t manage his own life right now, and I know what will happen if a couple hundred grand is dropped into his lap.

Neither I nor my wife want him to be homeless, but I worry that I will be responsible for taking care of my brother-in-law. I believe he will end up destitute after his parents are gone if no one steps in. At the same time, if they simply leave him money, he will fritter it away or possibly have it taken by debt collectors.

My wife and I are well-offish and can manage money just fine. Ideally, we could simply manage a trust for him to make sure bills are paid so he doesn’t end up homeless or starving. Obviously, this is a touchy subject coming from the son-in-law, especially with in-laws skittish about death and money.

I don’t want to flip the bill for this guy when his parents are gone.

Any advice would be great.

Responsible Son-in-Law

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Dear Son-in-Law,

You may need two separate interventions.

It sounds like a combination of mental-health and addiction issues. Sometimes, one can lead to another. Helping your brother-in-law could require a family intervention rather than a financial one. That would involve the entire family taking the baton and telling him one-by-one that they love him, and they want him to get back on his feet, and receive the help he needs.

Depression has risen among middle-aged American men over the last decade. Baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, face greater risk of depression, according to a 2015 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index survey. In the U.S., 14% of baby boomers are being treated for depression. That’s significantly higher than the national average of 11%, double the percentage for millennials.

It can also lead to more serious health problems. Studies have shown that being overweight or obese is associated with a higher risk of dying prematurely than being a healthier weight — and the risk increases with additional pounds. More than one-quarter of American adults define themselves as obese, but the real obesity rate is closer to one-third of the population.

The Moneyist: My friend’s father buried $50K in the backyard for his grandchildren. My friend has 2 kids, but his spendthrift brother has none. Should they split it?

Your in-laws can explore options to ensure that your brother-in-law is taken care of after they are gone, and somebody with mental-health and addiction issues who also lacks life skills would not be best able to handle their own finances, especially a lump sum. They could make a provision in their will to put proceeds from the sale of their home into a special-needs or living trust with an income.

This may require a second intervention, one that forces your in-laws to face up to the reality that their son is facing a long road to recovery and, if he is unwilling or unable to get better, that they will have to adjust their own estate plans accordingly. This could involve making an appointment with your in-laws, and a financial planner and real-estate lawyer to discuss these issues.

There are many organizations that can assist your parents, including the National Alliance On Mental Illness and the National Council for Behavioral Health. Your brother-in-law may also benefit from some kind of rehab or program of recovery. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Helpline also offers crisis counseling for people affected by the pandemic.

You can’t ultimately force your brother-in-law or in-laws to seek the help they need and, perhaps through a moment of grace, acknowledge that they need to face an unpleasant or difficult truth. You can do the best you can. But you are not ultimately responsible for the lives of others, even though it may be difficult to watch this situation deteriorate over time.

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Quentin Fottrell is MarketWatch’s Moneyist columnist. You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions at [email protected]. By emailing your questions, you agree to having them published anonymously on MarketWatch.