«It’s been bugging me all my life»: My dad gave me $1,000 a month to buy a house in California. My brother cried foul and told me to stop. Who is right ?

It has bothered me all my life. My father left my family when I was 7 years old. I don’t know how much child support he paid my mother. Shortly after graduating from college, he visited me for the first time since leaving the family. He told me that he wanted to send me money every month to eventually buy a house in the United States that would belong to the family. He started sending me payments of $1,000 a month to a joint bank account. I felt compelled to inform the rest of my family – my three siblings and my mother.

««It happened in 1992 in Los Angeles, and I can imagine that a $150,000 house back then would be worth $1 million today.»

My older brother insisted that I split the $1,000 monthly payments between us, without telling him, and said I had no right to buy a house in his name. I thought it would be unethical of me to continue accepting his monthly payments of $1,000 without informing him that I would be sharing it with the family and not going for a mortgage. I informed him of my brother’s demands and he quickly stopped sending me the payments.

Should I have just ignored my brother’s demands and continued to accept the $1,000 payments and later bought a house on behalf of the whole family? Should I even have told my family what my father was doing until after the house has been paid for and has become a family asset? I was quite young at the time and didn’t want to cause unnecessary family friction, but in hindsight I think I should have taken a stand and told my brother that I was going to continue taking his payments.

I would have bought a house and put the house in everyone’s name. After that, they could all debate whether to sell the house and split the value. By the way, this happened in 1992 in Los Angeles, and I can imagine that a $150,000 house back then would be worth $1 million today.

Long-standing ethical dilemma

Dear long time,

The deal was between you and your father. You do not say whether your father was also the biological father of your siblings. Anyway, I don’t think you had to tell the rest of your family that you were getting this money, since the money was to be used for the common good. But I see why you did it, and the fact that you did it speaks to your sense of duty and your character.

Your father asked you to put this money in a joint account, so it’s unclear what might have happened to this money in the future. He may have had a hard time, he may have changed his mind, or he may not have had the long-term follow through on this plan. At best, the nature of generosity was ill-conceived. At worst, his gift might be seen by harsher critics as manipulative and unfair to you.

If it was me ? It’s hard to say for sure, but I probably would have done the same. I don’t believe anyone should be asked to carry a secret like this, and even if you held this secret willingly, I can imagine the burden you must have felt. Research shows that people hide financial secrets from their families, but it can range from debt and a personal loan to their paycheck (and who could blame them).

Putting the best spin on this arrangement: Your father wanted to make amends for being an absent father, and this was one way for him to do so. It was designed to help you and your family, and yes, it helped your dad as well in that he was able to do something good and ease some of the guilt he may have been feeling for leaving his family. That said, asking you to do this for you put a lot of pressure on you, and he probably didn’t think about it.

«“Your dad wanted to make amends for being an absent dad, and this was his way of doing it.

As for the other part of your question: If your brother didn’t want to participate in a real estate investment, that was his choice, but telling you to stop receiving your dad’s gift was maybe crossing a line. In the end, it was – as you say – a decision that you made. You didn’t want to go against your brother’s wishes, or maybe you were worried about angering him and/or alienating your family.

Therapist and author Susan Forward speaks of families as «family systems.» That is, a group of people conditioned to adhere to the values ​​and rules of the group. Often, we are not even aware of the existence of these strings that influence our decision-making and our behavior. It is only when we step back that we often see the ways we have been manipulated or influenced and, just as helpfully, the ways we try to influence others.

No family is perfect. «Unhealthy families discourage individual expression,» Forward writes in her book, «Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life.» I’m not saying your dad was toxic, and I’m not saying your brother’s actions contained bad intentions, but your dad’s gift left you with years of regret and confusion over those $1,000 monthly deposits. – and what could have been.

“Everyone must conform to the thoughts and actions of toxic parents,” Forward writes. “They promote fusion, a blurring of personal boundaries, a bonding of family members. On an unconscious level, it is difficult for family members to know where one ends and the other begins. In their efforts to be close, they often stifle each other’s individuality. It’s a difficult, though insightful, family life.

Let go of what could have been. You made the best decision for you and your family at that time. You didn’t have the benefit of foresight. You find your individuality and your voice, and you can’t put a price on that. Forgive your brother for interfering and pushing you to end this arrangement, and forgive yourself for this 30-year decision.

Yoyou can email The Moneyist for any financial and ethical questions related to the coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com, and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.

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