Patricia Redlich

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Brother Ignoring debts


My father-in-law died recently. My husband took on the role of organising the funeral and financial arrangements etc. at the request of the family, for various practical reasons. My mother-in-law was in no fit state to deal with these matters at the time. The problem lies with one of my husband's brothers.

This guy has always needed a bail-out at various stages of his adult life, usually requiring a LOAN here and there and NEVER repaying his benefactor, who was usually his own father. And this has gone on despite the fact that he is by no means the most financially needy in the family. My husband requested a small amount of money from each of his siblings to cover a shortfall in the cost of the funeral. At the time all the siblings agreed and were happy to contribute. It was not a large sum. All bills were paid, and the money has now been collected from everyone - except the said brother. My husband paid his share instead and is now terribly upset, not because of the money owed to him, but because this brother is trying to get away without contributing to the cost of his own father's burial. It's the principle of the thing. And of course he's now avoiding all my husband's attempts to contact him.

The problem now is that the other siblings are putting pressure on my husband to force his brother to cough up and not let him get away with it, yet again. This leaves my husband caught between a rock and a hard place. If he puts on the pressure, his errant brother will unquestionably go to his mother and complain - and she, of course, knows nothing and would be complete devastated that her children were arguing over the cost of burying their father. On the other hand, the siblings are ringing us constantly, all fired up. All of this is adding distress to my husband's grief, and he doesn't know which way to turn.

Much is made of toxic family dynamics at Christmas, when the scattered clan come together and tear each other apart. It fades into insignificance beside the difficulties a family death can bring, particularly when a parent dies.

Two things may be happening in your husband's family. At a simple level, the siblings are trying to establish some sense of justice, having felt angry over the years that their father effectively favoured their errant brother. Even if he didn't love this particular son more, and didn't prise him more highly, he certainly indulged him. Sisters and brothers never entirely lose their sense of fair play, so they feel entirely cheesed off when one individual does a disproportionate amount of taking. And of course the chances are that he also gave less, thus compounding everyone's sense of grievance.

At a more complicated level, they may all have tried really hard to protect their father - and by extension their mother - from the financial burden. They may have worried about how things were going to pan out for their parents as they got older and more financially vulnerable. They may well have felt hugely frustrated in their attempts to advise, or intervene, when their father put his hand, yet again, in his pocket. They may even have gone to bat for their mother against their father, tried to fight her battle for her, even if this was not explicitly stated by any of them. And now the renegade has shown his true colours again, failing to be grateful, or to play fair, even in death. So they are angry.

The battle, however, is not theirs - not then and not now. It was their father's business then. He did what he wanted to do. They can't win the fight posthumously. Fairness cannot be achieved retrospectively. They have to live with that. And it is your husband's business now. He's the one who is out of pocket. Hence he is the one who has to decide what to do. He cannot be asked to fight a battle on behalf of the others.

I think your husband is wise in wanting to let things be. There is no point in pursuing this brother. He will not cough up. His type never do. And just for the record, if this brother does start approaching his mother for money, or even just with the story of the funeral costs, neither your husband nor his other siblings will be able to control that situation, anymore than they could control what their father did. It's important your husband should never feel guilty about that. Your husband needs to explain firmly but gently to his siblings that he's letting this go - and then quietly retreat into a place where he can grieve.
Irish based professional therapist and journalist. Website By : Deise Design