#541: What kind of financial “help” do I “owe” my uncle?

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Today’s letter is about money and family and when those things come together in a manipulative and possibly sinister way.

Dear Captain Awkward,

My parents passed away three years ago, leaving my little brother and I in the care of my Uncle and his wife. Their method of raising children is very different from what we were used to. Mom was the type who would say no to something and then explain why and often prompted discussion. Aunt is the type who yells no and glares if you question her.

I was 17 when I moved in with them so they haven’t been able to control me as much as they have my little brother. That said, they do still restrict me a lot. We live in the middle of nowhere so I can’t move around on my own, my phone and internet are regulated, and several times Aunt has snooped on my laptop. ‘My room’ is a free-for-all where her siblings come and go as they will and she often gives my things away because ‘they were getting old.’ I should stand up to them, I know that. But then I think they didn’t have to take us in and I really don’t want to cause any more trouble, so I quiet down again.

This year they’re intending to move to a new, much more expensive house in a very upscale area. Uncle took me aside and said that once I turn 21 this year and get my inheritance, he’s going to need some help, and alarms started going off in my head.

He says the new place will enable me to move around freely, and even get that summer job I’d been begging them to allow me to apply to, but it just feels like he’s trying to butter me up. He’s often promised me things that his wife then goes around and disagrees with, or outright denies they ever said. My friend is telling me I should run away, live on my own (practically impossible in my country) or, failing that, once I get my money I should sit them down and talk about the terms of my ‘helping.’ On one hand, that does seem reasonable. On the other hand, it also feels ungrateful.

I wouldn’t mind paying rent and my own expenses. I already pay for my college and for most big things, it’s only reasonable, and I often suggested that once I turned 21 I could live off my inheritance. But they always refuse and say that ‘It’s their duty’ and they didn’t want me to touch my money.

So why is Uncle now talking about ‘sharing’? He also explicitly told me not to mention this to any of our relatives and to claim that he got the new house with his money. The alarms are blaring louder.

Am I overreacting? Am I not? Should I just suck it up and accept that, sometimes, I gotta be the bad guy?

Grateful But Worried College Girl

Dear Grateful But Worried:

I am glad alarm bells are going off for you, because they are certainly going off for me.

It sounds like your inheritance has come as some kind of trust (allowing you to pay for education expenses, etc.) but that you will actually control the principal on your 21st birthday. Is this correct?

It sounds like, where you live, people live at home with their families maybe until marriage, and moving out and getting a place of your own is not the norm. So “just get your own place” and “take your brother with you, if he wants to come,” has some friction around it.

Here’s the stuff that is making the little hairs on the back of my neck stand up:

The timing of the move to an expensive new house (that it sounds like he cannot afford without your help) to coincide with the principal of your inheritance becoming available.

Vagueness around what “help” means. A few hundred dollars to trick out your room? Paying a percentage of the mortgage over time, in lieu of rent? Paying for the entire house? You living there indefinitely and him pretty much having access to and control over your money?

Secrecy. If you are an adult member of the household and you are contributing in some way, why is this a shameful secret?

When your uncle pulled you aside to talk with you, did you feel like saying “Actually, Uncle, I don’t plan to live at home after my 21st birthday, so please do not plan around me financially” was a perfectly fine, safe option that was on the table? If so, problem solved, right? Just be bluntly honest and this will all be cleared up! 

If you’re just two adults talking, and one of those adults makes a request, there should be an assumption that the other adult can refuse that request or negotiate that request. It doesn’t sound like your uncle is open to the possibility of refusal and is treating this like a done deal, which means it wasn’t actually a request: It was an assumption dressed in a guilt sweater and wearing secrecy pants and an overcoat of “I have power over you!” This is why your friend is saying Run away!

It’s admirable that you would want to assist your family, but you and your brother are not insurance policies or lottery tickets that have been hanging out waiting to be cashed. I think it’s reasonable to ask adult children who are living at home to pay rent and otherwise contribute to the household, but children are not obligated to pay back food & shelter & care. It’s also not your obligation to make your uncle’s assumptions come true. If this were all cool and above-board, your uncle wouldn’t have to work so hard to convince you, and there wouldn’t be such a need for secrecy.

When someone is trying to manipulate you, your best bet is to remain noncommittal (agree to nothing!), hang back, and look at the truth of what you want. Absent your family’s request, guilt, influence, need, etc. what do you want? A manipulator will try to obscure and separate you from that truth. You also did a smart thing by telling your friend and telling us – manipulators thrive on secrecy, so one power you have against them is to not keep their secrets.

Manipulators will either a) pressure you hard to agree, so they can come back later with “But you promised!” or b) roll right over you and not even give you a chance to respond, so they can later take your silence in the face of their assumptions as assent. It’s possible that in your uncle’s mind, now that he’s had that conversation, everything is a done deal. Whatever you say going foward, you want to a) delay an actual decision b) ask him to be more specific c) make the delivery of a decision conditional in some way.

Your best bet is probably to not bring it up again (while you quietly marshal some resources, more on that below) and put the onus on him to approach you again and make an actual, actionable request. He’s completely tipped his hand here, but you haven’t, so it’s okay if he thinks you are quietly mulling or agreeing if it buys you time. If he does approach you again, a script is could be as simple as “Can you tell me exactly what kind of help you have in mind?”

And hey, if he says, “Whoa, actually, I just meant we’d like you to pay rent of $x/month starting after your birthday, is that cool?” then hey, you’ll know, and it will actually be cool. I would love for us to be overreacting here! I would love for him to just be laying the groundwork for “We’ve always turned you down when you suggested paying rent, but now that you’re going to be an adult it’s time to revisit that question” conversation. If that’s what he’s doing, he’s being a good parent figure and dealing with you respectfully. And you asking for specifics is just you participating fully in a discussion that affects you.

If that’s not what he’s doing, be prepared to get a blast of “What’s there to discuss? Don’t you want to help your faaaaaaaaamily?” pushback. Or a dose of “I am an older male figure, and you are a mere young lady, don’t you think I know what’s best for you? Don’t worry your pretty head about such things” patronizing crap. See also: “I am insulted that you would even suggest such a shady thing by asking questions of me! My feelings are hurt! I am so wounded!” (where the only way to “apologize” for your “insult” is to just vaguely do what he vague-wants).  If you’re old enough to be asked for money, you’re old enough to a) know exactly how much money and b) have a say in its disposal.

Just keep repeating “I want to pull my own weight, of course, but I can’t agree to anything without knowing exactly what it is” or “As a businessman, I’m sure you’d agree it’s not a good idea to make an agreement without knowing the particularscome on, you raised me to be smarter than that!” or just “I promise I’ll think about it!” and get out of there. And make sure all conversations with your uncle have witnesses for the time being – don’t get into any more secret one-on-one talks.

So, after you turn 21, do you want to live in that new house with your aunt and uncle? Do you want to be responsible for supporting them financially? Is that how and where you see your future happening over the medium term? Living in the room where you’ll be closer to friends and can have a part-time job and maybe some more freedom of movement, but where people go through your things and give them away?

If you told your uncle what you truly want out of the next few years, would he support you or impede you? How far would he go (manipulation, guilt trip, further restrictions of your movements, violence) to get his way?

Whatever it is you decide that you truly want for yourself, hold fast to it. And then start making a plan that will get you what you want and keep you safe until you can get it.

This means some emergency planning. It can feel like a vast overreaction to start compiling this stuff and thinking in this paranoid way. But it really hurts no one to quietly put this stuff together. Hopefully you’ll never have to use it, but it can give you peace of mind to know that you could if you had to. For example:

  • Where are your identity & travel documents? Can you make copies and keep them with a friend? Do not let your aunt & uncle store these or have control of them. Make up an excuse about needing to make copies of them for school, etc. if you have to to get them.
  • Could you put aside/save/stash a bunch of money that your aunt and uncle don’t know about and only you can access, in case you needed to leave in a hurry? Could a friend keep a travel bag with clothing, cash, documents, etc. for you?
  • As a veteran of being spied upon, I’m sure you already know this, but use private or incognito windows in your internet browsers. Password-protect your phone. Become educated about computer security and take charge of yours.

Now, take inventory of the people in your life. Who is on Team You, and could act as a network of support if things got bad?

  • Friends
  • People at your university – professors, administrators
  • Family members other than your uncle that you have a good relationship with
  • Your attorney or whoever handles issues with your inheritance

Who might be able to take you in, or set you up with alternative housing? And could you test out these alternatives in small, non-permanent ways? “I’ve decided to stay in the dorms for the next semester to be closer to my friends.” “I’m going on a volunteer trip over the school break to catalog species of frogs in the rainforest.” “Uncle Frodo and Aunt Galadriel invited me to stay with them for a few months, I’d love to take them up on it and spend time with them.” 

Apply for every volunteer opportunity, internship, study-abroad session, etc. and visit every family member you have. Your aunt & uncle keep you on a very tight leash, it sounds like. How far will that leash stretch? Find out now, not “in the hypothetical new house in the hypothetical future where you have agreed to my requets.” It’s hard to argue with “It’s for my education!” and “But I want to be close to all my family!” or “Not having parents, I’m sure you would agree it’s important for me to be close to all my family!”

Reaching out to that attorney or executor is incredibly important. Does they know you, personally? Do you already have a relationship there? If they aren’t an attorney, can they recommend one? As your birthday approaches, there could be tons of reasons that you need to talk to financial advisors and seek legal advice. Make sure that person can be trusted and is 100% on your side (aka, not in your uncle’s pocket). If you trust them, run your uncle’s request by them and see what they say. Ask if the uncle has approached them about it. Get a sense of what they think you should do. This is a creepy, depressing question, but also find out/spell out: What happens to your money if something happens to you?

If you are close to other people in the family and feel like you can trust them, tell them about the request. You’re not responsible for keeping your uncle’s secret. “Uncle wants me to help out financially when I get my inheritance. The way he asked made me a bit uncomfortable. Have you ever had to handle anything like this before? I feel guilty saying no after all he’s done for me, but the request was so vague I don’t know that I can agree to it. What should I say?” Relatives who admonish you that you MUST do what your uncle says are not on Team You.

This is logistical groundwork but also about reminding yourself that you are part of a community. Manipulators want to isolate you so that the only voice you listen to is theirs. You have more savvy and more resources than you probably give yourself credit for, and it can be incredibly empowering to realize that you could make it without your aunt & uncle if you had to.

When you are ready to address your uncle’s request directly, you can treat it like he made a reasonable request of a fellow adult to start contributing around the house, and as such, you’d like to discuss it like adults in well in advance of making any decisions. This has the advantage of being the right thing to do whether or not there is anything shady or manipulative going on. I suggest that you set up a meeting between your uncle, your attorney, and you to discuss particulars. In fact, agree to NOTHING until this meeting takes place. You want an advocate and a witness present for this talk, someone who can make it clear that you haven’t actually agreed to anything and have no obligation to do so. Someone who can put everything in writing. Someone who can force your uncle to articulate his expectations. A lawyer is a buffer between you and your uncle, someone who can say “She wants to help and loves you! But secret conversations without actual numbers do not constitute agreement.” Possible agenda for that meeting:

  • What does “helping out” look like to your uncle? Ask the question, or have your attorney ask it, and then be silent. You want to find out if he wants a one-time thing, ongoing thing, carte blanche, etc., and you want him to be the one to articulate what it is vs. you suggesting anything.
  • If (big if) you made some kind of financial agreement, would your name also be on the title to the house, as partial owner? What rights & responsibilities does that entail? (You don’t necessarily want this at all, but it’s a question that should be raised. If we’re “sharing,” how is that spelled out, exactly?
  • In the initial discussion, he brought up the possibility of increased privacy, freedom, etc. Can that be part of any agreement?
  • What are the conditions/procedures for terminating the agreement?
  • Could any initial agreement be for a short term, with option to renew?
  • What are your liabilities if things go wrong? (If your uncle becomes unable to pay for the house, or it’s hit by a tornado or he’s sued in some way – lawyers are paid to think about the worst case scenarios and plan for those).
  • Why all the secrecy? No, really, why?  Again, I’m not a lawyer, but this is a question I would ask if I were one in this scenario – “You asked your niece to keep her assistance confidential. Why is that?” It could be that it’s a face-saving thing, or it could be that there are troubled business dealings afoot and your uncle has something to hide. That would certainly be relevant if you were entering into any kind of financial arrangement with him.
  • What about your younger brother? (It might be useful to know if your uncle expects similar “help” from him down the road, or if he sees his care as contingent upon financial reward).

If it’s your uncle’s intention to deal fairly and open with you, then all of this should be no problem. Nobody should be giving anyone a potentially house-buying chunk of money or even paying monthly rent without some negotiation and some kind of contract in place, and anyone who encourages you do so is not about protecting you. Being absolutely clear about expectations and putting things in writing protects everyone.

Okay, listen. Remember when I asked you what you want?

You’re under no obligation to give your uncle anything. You could meet with the lawyer, hear him out, etc. and decide “Nope!”If you can’t afford the house on your own, you shouldn’t buy it. My long-term plans don’t involve living there with you, so it doesn’t make sense to become financially entangled with you/house at this time.

You don’t have to know or communicate your long term plans. You just get to say “No, I don’t think it’s a good idea.” Your aunt & uncle’s feelings of disappointment, anger, etc. are theirs to deal with. That’s because your dead sibling’s children are not your investment policy, jerks!

If your uncle buys a house he can’t really afford because he was counting on unspecified “help” from you, and then tries to guilt you into paying for it after the fact, that is his mistake, not your obligation to fix. Watch for forced teaming.

The *only* reason I suggest delaying, hedging, or working in a roundabout way is for your own safety and peace of mind while you still have to live there. If you don’t feel like it’s a request you can say no to, and you feel like your safety & freedom would be threatened if you said a direct “no,” it is okay to stall for time while you marshall your resources. Promises made under duress to someone in a position of authority and power over you are not real promises that must be delivered upon.

If you feel a sense of obligation, and you are coming into money-to-burn kind of money and can be generous without having any adverse impacts on you or your future, you could decide to give your aunt & uncle a one-time small gift. “Now that I’m ‘of age’, I wanted to recognize all you’ve done for Brother and me. Here. No strings attached.” That is not an obligation, or something they are entitled to expect, but if it will help you mentally “settle accounts” on your way of being free from them, it might be worth it. There are times in my life where being able to make a  “Thanks for the guilt trip and the memories, here you go! Now shut up forever” payment would come in handy for my peace of mind, whether the other party deserved anything or not.

Above all, going forward, trust your instincts. Trust what you want for yourself. Trust the part of yourself that told you that something was fishy about the way your uncle made his request. You seem to have a pretty strong sense of your own boundaries and what’s right and wrong, which is comforting. Be well, and keep us updated if you feel comfortable.

104 thoughts on “#541: What kind of financial “help” do I “owe” my uncle?

  1. Excellent advice, Captain. One thing I’d just suggest is having another adult (like a friend or relative on Team You) in on all conversations with your Uncle about money, including the one where you tell him you want to him meet with your lawyer. It might make him behave better.
    Also, consider letting your brother know now about these conversations in case your Uncle pulls the same thing on him. This would give him a chance to prepare and have a committal response.

    1. “One thing I’d just suggest is having another adult (like a friend or relative on Team You) in on all conversations with your Uncle about money, including the one where you tell him you want to him meet with your lawyer. It might make him behave better.”

      This was EXACTLY what I was going to say. For some reason, this situation just sounds so incredibly ominous, and the LW in such a vulnerable position. LW, if you haven’t done so already, this is the time to put together a team of advocates. This includes:

      -A lawyer, or perhaps lawyers, since there are both financial and family issues to be considered.
      -Money experts: accountant, financial advisor, estate planner, insurance agent, etc. who will advise you in managing your money and ensuring that you meet YOUR short and long-term financial needs.
      -Assertive grownups that play for Team You. These people should have your best interests at heart, and would be able to support you in articulating and sticking to your positions during conversations with people like your Uncle.

      I can’t tell from your letter whether you feel as though you have any of these Grownups. If you don’t, I can assure you that there are definitely people who would be willing to take on this job if you asked for help. Random ideas off the top of my head: any current or former teachers/coaches, a dean or advisor at your school, or the parents of a close friend. In other words, no-nonsense, mature types who are definitely not going to be swayed by Uncle. It seems like he’s preying on the fact that he’s an older caretaker in your life, and it may help to demonstrate that he is not the only Grownup who cares about you.

  2. Wow, this also makes my spidey senses tingle. Good advice from the Captain. One thing I’d add – you don’t say where you are, but in some countries 21 would be coming up on the end of college. If this is the case for you then do all you can now to build connections with sympathetic people / services in your college who might be able to help out. This can vary a lot, of course, but in general colleges tend to have a. more support services than are easily available in the outside world and b. more people who are willing to consider that the ‘norm’ in your culture may not be right for you (if only because a lot of people go through their doors and so they have a broader frame of reference). If you have an established relationship within your institution, it can sometimes make it possible for them to give you some support after you’ve graduated.

    Good luck, LW!

    1. I second this very hard. Most universities have great support networks in place – often including a dedicated academic adviser/mentor/point person who is assigned to you and whose role is to help you out in situations EXACTLY like this, i.e. personal and financial issues not necessarily related to your school work. LW, if you have someone like this, I would strongly advise that you seek them out, even if you’ve never had much contact with them before.

      At the very least, that person will be an objective adult who does not know your uncle and does not care about his house-buying plans, but does have vested interest you and what is best for your future. They also could potentially help you out in all kinds of practical ways, such as putting in an urgent request with campus housing to get you a room, even though it’s midway through semester or whatever and help you get in contact with any other campus services you might need. Campus support systems are usually great, but depending on the size of your school, they can be large and impersonal and poorly coordinated. It’s great to have a single human on Team You who is also a faculty member who can use their clout to get you through the system.

  3. Oh boy, this letter’s red flags are flying. Like the Captain, I sincerely hope your Uncle is acting with your best interests at heart. But this just FEELS all sorts of wrong to me. As a 20-something college graduate, it’s my experience that most young people (including myself, sometimes!) don’t fully understand the implications of their financial decisions due to inexperience and the illusion that we have so much TIME to make up the deficit later on. This is why so many 18 year olds, fresh into adulthood, take out destructive loans, buy too many rounds at the bar, and only pay the minimum on their credit card balances- transitioning from the powerlessness of a child to the responsibility of an adult is a tough one to navigate. Other people, especially older and wiser people, take advantage of our hesitation and try to make us feel stupid or ungrateful for questioning their expert advice. It’s a feeling I know well, as my dad pulls this on me all the time. I know you are paying for college tuition, so you have a much firmer grasp on your financials than many of your peers, but dealing with complicated inheritance laws will be stressful and shouldn’t be taken on alone.

    LW, please tread carefully here. I understand right now you are dependent upon your relatives for the basics, but the time is fast approaching when that will no longer (have to) be the case. If living with them continues to be the best situation, then stay where you are comfortable, but the invasion of privacy, isolative tactics, and outright STEALING of your property makes me think you’d be better off somewhere else. If you can save up enough money for an apartment, do so NOW. Many first-time renters don’t realize all the “set-up” costs that come during your first month, and just a security deposit can run into the thousands, depending on the area. When I cut ties with my dad, this cushion fund was what saved me from going back. I also second the Captain’s advice on gathering all government documents and important possessions to store somewhere safe. You will need an exit plan, perhaps with friends or trusted family, in case things get ugly once your money becomes “accessible.” I’m not trying to scare you or read too much into the situation, but I think you are right to be wary and should be prepared to protect yourself and your financial future in the face of manipulation. It’s good to be grateful, even generous with our extra time and money, but remember that no child owes their guardians anything for providing them with basic care. Be strong, be safe, and be assertive- we are all here for you!

    1. A tip for set-up costs (Although I don’t know how common this situation is where you live) is, if you can, (if you do move) move into a furnished (or partially furnished) place. People will (at least where I live) rent out rooms in their home, or go in together to rent a house and sometimes need a new roommate, or need to sublet their home for a summer (or many other situations). If you can find something like that, it will lower the over-head and let you hunt around for things at second hand shops (again, if that’s a thing where you are) so you don’t need to furnish your next place from scratch.

  4. “live on my own (practically impossible in my country)”

    I’m willing to bet that this isn’t the case. I’m also willing to accept that it will be tremendously difficult, that you are going to get pushback from not only your aunt and uncle, but your whole extended family and community, and that trying to live on your own without a good support network is going to be difficult, if not dangerous.

    That said, living in a place where people go through your posessions, give them away, keep you isolated, forbid you to hold down a job, and other manipulations more _also_ isn’t necessarily safe, particularly if you’re standing to inherit a large sum of money, because it sounds as if your uncle intends to spend it. You definitely do not owe him that. You also don’t owe it to your brother to let yourself be deprived of your inheritance and freedom (to move about, to have a job, to decide what you want to own and when to get rid of it) just so you can stay closer to him.

    Somewhere in your country – possibly at your college, but very likely on the internet – are people who know how you can assert your independence. (It might involve moving to a bigger city further away.) I hope that you find them, and that things go well for you.

  5. College Girl, you are NOT overreacting. You are obviously a smart and discerning person, and as you come of age it’s only right for you to listen to your own alarm bells and make your own judgments about how to handle your parents’ legacy. Continue not letting your aunt and uncle control your sense of reality. Your parents left you with a good head on your shoulders.

    I would also suggest, as part of your dealings with lawyers, to find out what your options are for your brother’s care, if you are open to taking on some of that responsibility. (You are NOT obligated to take care of him if you don’t want to or feel unable to; I can’t gauge your feelings on this from you letter.) Would being 21 and having your own money enable you to become his legal guardian or spokeperson? Would it enable you to remove him from their home (legally, without risking accusations of abduction) if you later decide you want to? Could/would your aunt and uncle use his wellbeing, or your access to him, as leverage to control you? If so, can you take away that leverage by assuming more power over your brother’s care?

    1. So much this.
      I would not be surprised to find that if you left, without him, they might opt to restrict your access to him. How old is he? Is there the same feeling of cultural limitation for him not moving out of home until (I assume) marriage? Or will he be granted more freedom when he turns 18 / 21?
      If he is only a couple of years younger, and so will come in to more money within a couple of years of you, and might have more social freedom, make plans to leave with him.

    2. ALL the alarm bells.

      LW, I urge you very, very strongly to tell others in your family about your Uncle’s requests NOW, before things get this nasty. You need to have people who are well aware of this situation and will check on you regularly in case things get super unsafe for you or your access to others/the outside world becomes majorly restricted. Tell people and leave written records of the behavior, requests, and your concerns for their future actions, including the possibility of being coerced or forced into signing over some of your money.

      Also, you may have some legal grounds for the stealing of your possessions. That is Not Okay. Please document all of these things and give copies to many trusted friend and relatives.

  6. Not to be alarmist, but….I am concerned for the LW’s safety. If these controlling relatives (especially the male one) are accustomed to getting their way, I’m concerned that they may physically restrain her from leaving and then browbeat/coerce/force her to sign some kind of document giving them control of her funds or promising to pay X dollars toward the down payment.
    Anyone else’s alarm bells sounding more like klaxons on this?
    I think the advice is absolutely terrific, especially as regards ID/passport. May I also suggest that you get those Team You members to be there while you pack up your stuff and leave? Aunt and Uncle are unlikely to berate you (or, worse, attack you) with a team of witnesses standing by. It wouldn’t hurt a bit of some of those witnesses were strapping young men who could convey “back off” just by being really tall.
    And: Inviting your brother to come along would be a kind thing, but it sounds as though he’s been under their control during his more impressionable years. He might be afraid to leave or bewildered as to why you’d WANT to leave. If that’s the case, maybe tell him that while you appreciate all that your relatives have done (ahem), it’s time for you to strike out on your own and that he’s welcome to join you, say, when it’s time to go to university.
    I wish you luck. My spidey senses are off the charts with this one. (Then again, I’m a bit hypervigilant after 23 years with an emotionally/psychologically abusive man. It was really, really hard to break away after all that mind control.) I sure hope you’ll write with an update once you’re settled.

    1. “Anyone else’s alarm bells sounding more like klaxons on this?”

      Mine, definitely. This may be a ‘relatively harmless’ situation (uncle and aunt are merely controlling and will strip LW of all their money if they can), and it might be not, but it’s by no means a healthy situation or one the LW should stay; whatever it takes to break free.

    2. huge, huge screaming alarm bells. When money is involved people get nasty. I am seriously concerned about her and her safety. The larger the amount of money the worse. I hope she can work out an escape plan if things really do go south. I have a really bad feeling about this.

      1. And to be honest it sounds like a potentially fairly large (from the perspective of a young adult without much, rather than in relation to multimillionaires or whatever) amount of money, if it would at all influence the affordability of a house in an upscale neighbourhood.

    3. I don’t think you’re being alarmist. I am worried about two things in particular: the potential for emotional abuse/coercion because the letter writer is living with the uncle, and the potential for financial malfeasance on the part of the uncle/aunt. The first may well depend on the second.

      Part of me wants to say that my immediate all-hackles-up reaction is due to reading too many English Victorian thriller novels (in which young women with inheritances ARE ALWAYS under threat from the relatives they live with), but I think that the behavior of the uncle in this case is really cause for alarm.

      And it’s certainly not impossible that relatives might attempt to get at/have already made away with money that belongs rightfully to someone else. It happened in my family of birth (my uncle, actually — he stole my grandmother — his mother’s — inheritance and spent it all while she was ill) and I hear of this kind of thing all the time. I very MUCH advise the letter writer to find out who had access to (was administering) the funds she will be inheriting shortly. I also echo the advice about getting access to important ID documents. You might want to find a way to store these outside the house (safety deposit box? Friends house?).

      People who plan to spend your money without your input are not on Team You. In fact, they may be actively dangerous, especially when thwarted.

      1. Yeah, actually, hopefully this isn’t a “so you’re going to help us out, right, because I’ve already been dipping into your money and I need retrospective permission” situation.

      2. “People who plan to spend your money without your input are not on Team You. In fact, they may be actively dangerous, especially when thwarted.”

        sounds like Uncle’s got his dreams and plans hooked to her star. she needs a lawyer and team you, for sure.

    4. I could be the most zen Buddhist monk and my spidey senses would still be going haywire over this letter!

  7. Oh my goodness, LW, this sounds like a really difficult situation. So much sympathy and many Jedi hugs if you want them.

    This is really good advice. The only thing I would add (and maybe it goes without saying) is that you should not have that meeting with the attorney if you suspect that the attorney is looking out for your uncle’s interests more than for yours. The Captain sort of implied this, but I think it’s really important. You definitely don’t want to have your uncle and an attorney pressuring you into something you don’t feel comfortable with.

    If you suspect that you can’t trust your attorney, look for someone else. Maybe your school has one that students can use, or maybe they could at least tell you where to start looking. Make sure that the meeting happens between you, your uncle, and someone who’s on Team You and who also knows what they’re talking about.

    1. To add to this, please be aware that in a situation like this, the lawyer is representing only one person, no matter what anyone says about representing the whole family. And if you did not hire the lawyer, then the lawyer is not representing you.

  8. My gut is saying oh god no, get out, get out, get out. This sounds like badness–you do not owe them this kind of money, not for food (if you felt guilty, you could estimate some some of food expenses and gift it to them) and shelter (maybe they had to reorganize their lives a bit, but those rooms were there anyway). My advice for how to think it through: the fact that he is buying a pricey new house is highly suspect. Think about if you were to pay a monthly rent, based on the general room-rental rates in your area (in a shared living situation, since you are not getting an exclusive apartment within the house I presume)….would that add up over a couple of years (not 10 or 20–do you expect to be there that long?) to the kind of money that’s needed for this new house? Because you should not pay a dime more than that, it is not your job to invest great sums of money in a house that your aunt and uncle get to keep forever (and have their names on, and profit off of should they choose) that you do not WANT to live in forever. Your parents left you an inheritance to secure a good future for your and your brother, not to give your aunt and uncle a boost.

    In other words, that inheritance is to someday help you buy your OWN house. Or for you to have an apartment while you struggle to get your feet under you after college. If you give it all away…you will continue to be reliant on your aunt and uncle. What if instead you found a friend to crash with (if not rent an apartment together), and gave THEM a bit of financial “help” as thanks? I’m guessing the numbers involved would be dramatically different. I’m guessing you’d have a lot more freedom, too. I think the studying abroad thing is a great idea, too…maybe it’s almost unheard of in *your* country for a young lady to be able to live alone…but in *another* country, you may find it easy and cheap and that your inheritance is plenty to live comfortably off of while you get some experience at going it solo.

    When a young married couple gets a house together, if its done right there is a discussion and paperwork on who contributes what money, whose name is on what, who gets what if there’s a divorce or misfortune, etc. This shit should all be in the open. The fact that your contribution is a thing of secrecy scares me very much. Tread carefully.

    1. “Your parents left you an inheritance to secure a good future for your and your brother, not to give your aunt and uncle a boost.”

      Exactly. I know nothing of will and testaments, but I imagine the LW’s parents would have allotted money to the uncle and aunt if they wanted them to have it, right? That money is not meant to pay whatever debt the LW feels they owe their aunt and uncle for taking them in after their parents’ death.

    2. This. Also I would strongly recommend checking the specifics in your parents’ will. If your aunt and uncle were listed as the ones who were supposed to act as legal guardians, then they weren’t doing this (just) because it’d be a shitty thing not to do. They were doing it because it was literally their duty to do that or to find someone who could. Which means that you don’t owe them a single penny for expenses in raising you and your brother, any more than you would have owed your parents.

      (Unless, of course, you’re a Discworld dwarf. But that’s a whole different kettle of fish, and the secrecy and shame-y-ness of this kind of screams that it’s not Discworld dwarven “I am buying myself back from you, to repay the cost of raising me to a point where I could support myself and be productive.”)

      Plus, if your aunt and uncle were named as the ones who’d be tapped as legal guardians in your parents’ will? They would’ve known about it. You have to actually consult people about this. You and your brother aren’t Harry Potter – you weren’t dropped on the doorstep for your relatives to find with the milk, they knew you would come into their care if something happened to your parents.

  9. (Full disclosure: I write trashy mysteries and work with authors who also write trashy mysteries, so I spend a lot of time putting a depressing spin on innocuous events and imagining ways people might be conning each other. My alarm bells are always going off!)

    I think the Captain has given wise advice, as always, but one thing worries me. Are you confident that your inheritance is currently safe? If you’ve got full access to information about your inheritance and you’re happy everything’s as it should be, then great! But if the arrangement is more informal than the Captain is imagining, you haven’t checked in on it in a while, or it’s overseen by people you don’t know or trust (your aunt and uncle?) then I think it’s worth checking that everything’s as it should be, as soon as possible.

    In the trashy mystery version of this story that inheritance is long gone, and the wicked uncle is now embarking on a desperate plan to avoid getting caught. In real life, I’d guess your uncle has simply taken out an overambitious mortgage and now he’s realising he’s overstepped himself and is making overtures to get you to help. In both cases, the Captain’s advice to take things slow and marshal your resources seems best. Either the money’s safe or it’s no longer there to save.

    But I can dimly imagine a middle ground where your uncle has somehow got access to the inheritance and it’s currently being depleted. If that’s the case, then you need to work out how to stop him immediately. This is likely to involve all the legal steps outlined by the captain and other commenters, they’re just more urgent.

    I really hope that everything has an innocent explanation (even the request for secrecy, to my mind the most suspicious factor, could just be the actions of a man who would be embarrassed to be helped financially by a young female relative). But I think you’re definitely right to be suspicious.

    1. Yeah, this was my worry as well. This happened to a friend of mine- her grandmother left her a trust and her father had access to it… and he spent almost everything without telling her. By the time she ran (her parents are emotionally abusive as you could possibly imagine), she had nothing to fall back on and she had to go into debt. I sincerely hope this isn’t the case for LW, but it’s better to find out NOW then to make contingency plans based on money that may or may not still be there.

  10. The fact alone that you say he doesn’t want you mentioning this to other relatives, and in fact tells you to lie to them if they ask how he got the house and pays for it, screams “RED ALERT RED ALERT!!!” to me.

    If you can contact someone (a lawyer, banker, whoever) and make damned sure your uncle and aunt can’t touch your money without your absolute permission and approval, do it. I wouldn’t put it past them to go over your head if you say no and try to clean out every cent of inheritance you have to spend on themselves. Be careful, never agree to anything unless you know in detail what it is and it’s what you want to do, and most importantly, PROTECT YOURSELF.

  11. LW, is your uncle the executor of the estate/ the one handling the trust? I would ask the financial advisors at your school for help getting that changed pronto.

  12. I definitely think that the uncle is being shady. Two main reasons: First, the fact that he wants to keep LW’s potential “help” a secret. Did he lose some money and is now keeping that from his relatives (maybe even his wife)? Second, his attempt to link the financial help with advantages for LW that shouldn’t really have anything to do with how much she contributes to the household. Her being able to move more freely & getting a job shouldn’t have a price tag. Those are things she should be able to do anyway as an adult.

    1. So much great advice in this thread, but I wanted to second this point in particular, because it risks getting lost in the more practical stuff, but I think it is very important for you to remember, should you choose to stay living with your Aunt and Uncle. Uncle requesting money from you to contribute to the household should not in any way be linked to the fact that he wants to buy a new house. He is fully entitled to ask for a reasonable contribution from you as a fellow adult living under his roof, however that should stand on its own. He can then use that money to do whatever he pleases within the law, including buying a new house, however the two should not in any way be linked, in his mind or yours. Because, what if a few years down the line he wants a car? Or a boat? Or something? Will that affect the money you’re paying for room and board, if you decide to stay? (Answer is: No, it shouldn’t.)

      Secondly, I know this has been touched on, but it bears repeating: If he is going to ask contributions from you as an adult (and you wish to continue living under his roof and agree), that means he and Aunt have to treat you as an adult in every other respect: That means, no more giving away your belongings, invading your space/privacy without consent, trying to put ties on you in terms of what you can and cannot do (e.g. move around freely, get a job, possible future romance/marriage, what have you). This is stuff that you in a perfect world should be able to expect regardless, however this is obviously not a perfect situation for you, so it will need to be explicitly stated at the time of the agreement, on the understanding that lack of respect for you as an adult will result in lack of contributions.

      All of the above relates to you potentially staying with Aunt and Uncle, but I have to say, reading your letter my gut was screaming ‘run! Run away now!’ I really hope I am overreacting, but good luck LW, whatever you decide!

    2. Well, we don’t know LW’s situation – there are places where there is no such thing as full independence for adult women, and where they do need permission to travel. But I’m hoping LW has more options than that, and I suspect she does.

      I’m very bothered by the idea that she needs to pay rent quite soon yet is not allowed to get a job. It’s one or the other, really: either you have both a right and an obligation to work/contribute or you have neither. It sounds like her aunt and uncle are trying to keep her from getting together any funds of her own – or from making other connections outside the family.

  13. Your relatives sound like the evil family from which the heroine is rescued by the dashing hero in a Georgette Heyer novel. Do you know any impeccably dressed rakes with a heart of gold? No?

    Listen to the terrifyingly amazing people above.

    Also remember that you and your brother were children who had been orphaned. They are your family. They took you on, they should treat with all the love and kindness that it is in their power to give. They should not bully you, deprive you of your privacy, and they should certainly not defraud you. Do not berate yourself for not feeling able to assert yourself. You should not have to stand up to them for them not to mistreat you.

    If (heaven forbid) you were to find to find yourself in their situation, how would you treat your nieces and nephews? Think about that. You do not owe them anything.

    My sincerest condolences to the loss of your parents. And I am so very sorry that you are not being given the support that you deserve.

  14. There is a big flashing red light with a loudspeaker shouting “Get. The fuck. Away!” If your uncle has nothing to hide regarding his plans for your (YOUR not his) money then why is he asking you to hide it? You say it’s almost impossible to live along where you are…. ok, you’re at college so ask around and find a housemate. Maybe they weren’t obliged to take you & your brother in, but they chose to do so – you don’t owe them for that. Please don’t shackle yourself to your aunt and uncle any longer than you have to. Good luck.

  15. Oh my god this is actually a bit terrifying.
    I second the Captain’s advice about seeing an attorney.
    Is there a safe place where you can do research — school, a public library?
    If so, go there and research attorneys/accountants/bank people who can help you.
    If, as I suspect, this is all about your money and getting it, you need to do everything you can to keep it out of your uncle/family’s hands. Even if you can’t get ahold of the attorney who’s handling your inheritance, you can find someone who will help YOU, and only you, in this situation. You need an advocate who’s older and more experienced, to help you navigate this situation. This is not me talking down (I’m only 23 myself) but since you seem to live in a culture where young women don’t have the most power, you need to get someone in your corner who DOES have the power and can wield it for your benefit. This is especially important since your aunt and uncle don’t seem like the most progressive people or good listeners. If they aren’t going to respect your wishes when you say them, you need to find someone they’ll respect and obey.

    So, back to my point. Find an attorney. He/she can take all the legal steps to
    a — keep your money out of your uncle’s hands (if that’s what you want)
    b — help you (and maybe your brother too) find a way to get out of your situation.
    Then contact the attorney by phone or email. You will probably go see them.
    Use a phone/computer your family can’t access (at school, the public library, a friend’s home) and set up an appointment or correspondence. Many attorneys offer a free consultation/ first meeting (in my country, anyways) so you can talk to someone without having to worry about money.
    Try to get a meeting time and place that co-incides with your daily routine (walking to school, going to a movie, visiting a friend, going to your piano lessons/sports activity/cooking classes/whatever you do normally), so your meeting won’t arouse suspicion in the people who aren’t Team You.
    Don’t tell anyone about this until you’re ready to unveil your plan for going forward. Don’t tell your brother, your step (?) siblings, anyone at school. The fewer people who know what’s going on, the less chance of your uncle/family finding out.

    Honestly, this living situation is starting to sound more manipulative and scary the more I think about it. I agree with the Captain that you need to figure out what happens to your assets in case something happens to you. It’s an awful awful scary thought but it has happened before when money was the motive.

    {and before people jump on me for offering a slightly legal opinion — I am not an attorney. I am in law school, so I can speak on this with some experience. obviously I am speaking in an advisory way only. contact someone personally in your area for help with your personal situation.}

  16. Eep. This sounds like a very scary situation, even though there’s no direct threats being made.

    A few things I thought of:

    -Make sure your Uncle/Aunt’s names are not anywhere on the trust. It doesn’t sound like they have access to your money, but make sure (through the bank or a lawyer) that they do not have *any* sort of access to it, or are acknowledged in the paperwork at at all. Also make sure that all the money is there. Your parents’ lawyer, or whoever set up the inheritance, can help you here.

    -It sounds like young woman living alone is discouraged in your country, but what about a group of young women living together? Could you move in with some friends, or could you agree with your aunt and uncle to live at home, say, on the weekends but spend the week living closer to school with other people? (This would give your privacy and a place to secure your things. You might also consider getting a secure deposit box at a bank, or asking a trusted person to keep ahold of your important documents and valuables). Is there another relative whose house you could stay at sometimes?

    -Look into ways to spend a long time away from your home, without actually leaving. Being apart from Aunt & Uncle will give you clear headspace and a chance to think things through calmly and independently. Can you study abroad for several months, a semester, a year? (Some countries, such as Finland, Norway and Austria, offer free or low-cost tuition to international students). Can you get an internship somewhere? Do you have a professor who knows you well and who you could ask to help you find opportunities?

    Good luck, LW!

  17. This may or may not be a good idea (anyone?), but would it do any good to discus this with your aunt? You mentioned that she has, in the past, vetoed agreements you made with uncle, so it might be a good idea to see where she stands on the issue. I would also suggest that if you do decide to make some agreement with aunt and uncle, that it be a formal, written out, signed by you, your aunt and your uncle, and witnessed, so that your aunt can’t ignore or change provisions after the fact. But leaving as soon as you can is probably a better option. I agree with the other commentators who have suggested that you see what help your university has available. If it is like other universities, there wiil be something and it should be free or low-cost. Good luck to you.

    1. I am highly suspect of both the aunt and uncle, and feel that this is a joint effort between them. Aunt might not have been a part of the initial discussion, but if they’re thinking of moving using LW’s money, then I’m almost positive she is involved in some form or fashion. I think that the more LW can extract herself from this pair, and the more outside opinions and help she gets, the better.

    2. Honestly? The aunt scares me even more than the uncle.

      She screams at the LW, invades her privacy, steals LW’s things, and “disagrees with” agreements that the uncle and LW (two consenting adults) made as though she can unilaterally make all the decisions in the household and the uncle can’t bring himself to tell her off. As shady as the uncle’s behavior is, I didn’t see anything in the LW’s letter that made him sound outright abusive. The aunt, very much so.

  18. You know how when someone talks about the missteps of someone who they have some social or emotional obligation to, they tend to couch it and make it sound less awful than it really is? I’m getting that vibe from this letter and what’s plainly there is pretty friggin awful. To top that off, someone who knows you and presumably knows more about what it would take for a young woman to live alone in your country and who knows the situation better than not-completely-random internet strangers who have read it (probably) filtered through your (probable) kindness filter thinks you should run away. That worries me. A lot.

    So to add to the not-completely-random internet stranger chorus and not necessarily in order:
    Red flags: CHECK CHECK CHECKITY CHECK. You do not sound paranoid or unreasonable. You sound perceptive and your uncle sounds gross.
    Secrecy request: horrifying
    What you owe them: not a secret down payment on their house
    What your uncle is doing: very slimly possible that it’s innocuous but it sounds shady and manipulative and rotten
    The status and security of said inheritance: should be verified
    Go kit: should be accumulated
    Team you: should be notified

    All of the advice to proceed as if what he *meant* was reasonable is fantastic. All of the advice to cover your ass and get ready to run if what he meant is what it sounds like, plus or minus a threat to your physical safety is also fantastic.

    My condolences on the loss of your parents. I hope you and your brother manage to make it through this next hurdle without too much strife. (And echoing the request that you let us know how it goes. I’m sure I’m not alone in that even being a not-completely-random internet stranger, I will worry about you until I know you’re well and free of their power over you.)

  19. You’re in a really tough spot right now and I’m so happy that you found this place online. What you have written is setting off HUGE red flags. Your relations behavior is alarming and not whatsoever loving and helpful in what is a hard time in your life. Pretty much what everybody else is saying,

    Prepare for the worst, hope for the best. It honestly sounds like your uncle is planning on milking you for all the money he can get and when you tell him no (PLEASE tell him no) be very, very careful about what happens. In fact, I would absolutely get the law involved. GET a buffer, do not be alone with him when you tell him. The captain is right, stall until you have full control of your inheritance and the ability to get away when things go south.

    When money is involved, especially big money, people do desperate, bad things.

    Now is the time to arm yourself, educate yourself, and prepare yourself for what is likely going to be a real battle.

    Protect yourself in every way you can, get as many people backing you as you can because if you have a network you are much more likely to succeed.

    See what you can do for your brother, if and when you are able to get away from them they will turn all their frustration and anger and bitterness on him.

    Repeat after me, YOU DO NOT OWE THEM ANYTHING. NO GUILT, this is survival and they are being bad people. They are taking from the children they are supposed to be protecting and helping. NO GUILT, just take care yourself and your brother.

    I wish you the best. Be brave, you aren’t alone. Get out of that house as soon as you can.

  20. My heart rate spiked while reading this. It took me a moment or two to realize that I was hyperventilating after I finished reading the post.

    LW, I don’t know you, or your uncle, and I’m actually not much of a believer in “going with your gut”. But my automatic nervous system is screaming that this is a situation with the potential to go very, very wrong. Please take the Captain’s advice and make some plans to protect yourself first and foremost. I will think often of you and hope for your safety (that’s secular-ese for “I’ll pray for you”).

  21. LW, from my perspective, this situation is covered in a billion red flags. It seems inherently abusive, from the restriction of you, a fellow adult, from doing things to better your future, to the secrecy, to the complete violation of your privacy and possessions!

    My mom is from a culture in which 1) standing up for yourself in lieu of family needs is considered selfish, 2) one’s family is allowed to insert themselves into your business and life, to say things that are insulting or even hurtful, and even attempt to coerce you into doing things you don’t want to do, all under a general cultural guise of “family only wants what’s best for you,” 3) attempting to dictate your needs, to the extent that conflict arises is considered hugely unseemly, and can even result in relatives not speaking to you for YEARS and 4) a young person is expected to be extremely grateful to family and respect their authority, no matter if the relatives in question have actually done anything helpful, or even kind.

    My mom’s immediate family, i.e. my aunt and grandparents, are on the kindest, most generous side of this culture, and even then there has been emotional abuse and manipulation that my mom, at 50 years old, is STILL struggling with. It’s one of those “missing stair” phenomena, in which she was led to believe that it’s ok for my grandfather to choose her degree for her, that it was FINE for him to tell her fiance that “she is difficult to deal with, you might not love her after a while” at their wedding rehearsal (!WHAT!), that she OWED it to extended family and friends she’d never met to send lavish gifts on their birthdays/Christmas/random holidays. And these are people who at their core are trying to express love! There are a bunch of stories that I heard growing up about my grandparents’ families, who were NOT so kind, in which emotional abuse, manipulation, lying, and even thievery were tolerated under the guise of “one should always support family.”

    When I turned 16, I encountered this side of my mom’s family, and it shocked me. Here were people who had been so loving to me growing up, whom I trusted implicitly. Sure, they had some emotionality, but for the longest time the weird, manipulative parts of them lay dormant while my sister and I were little. My mom was also phenomenal at creating a buffer around us, since she never wanted us to experience the abuse she grew up with. But that dysfunction was there, it was palpable, and it was incredibly difficult for me to “disappoint” my family (as in, do what I truly wanted to do with my life). Even now, 7 years later, they still express this attitude, and I have to constantly revert back the strategy of being a broken record/CHANGE THE SUBJECT ASAP.

    I say all this, LW, because I noticed multiple times that you say you should be “grateful” for everything your aunt and uncle have done, and that to refuse them would be somehow selfish of you. While it is true that they took you in and you, being a caring person, feel like you want to repay them, or that to push back against them is to be an ingrate. This is not true! Please, please, puh-lease believe me from the bottom of my heart when I say that you are fine, you seem to be a kind, generous, and caring person who has gone through a very tough time. And now you’re facing events that make this period of your life even trickier; your family is behaving in a way that does not seem kind, or to be honest, legal. Again, it’d be nice to give your aunt and uncle the benefit of the doubt, but to be honest, their behavior is making me recall a lot of BAD behavior I’ve seen from my own family.

    They took you in when they didn’t have to. This implies that they had a decision in doing so, and thus they should understand that they have the responsibility to prepare you and your brother for adulthood. You are 20 years old, almost 21, and about to have enough money to become financially independent per your parents’ wishes. Your aunt and uncle should be doing their best to help you come into your inheritance, as well as your adulthood, in the most successful way possible. Snooping on you, violating your possessions, restricting your movements, denying you (an fellow adult) things like a part time job that would help you gain experience as well as grow economically, is the absolute opposite of how caring, genuinely helpful family members behave.

    And now there is this weirdness with your uncle buying a new house, and also asking for money that your parents set aside for your future? Again, I want to give him and your aunt the benefit of the doubt, but it’s hard to do so when they are doing things that seem so contrary to helping you grow and succeed.

    LW, I know the confusion and pain that comes with having family members reveal themselves to be unkind, or even downright cruel. I know that going through this, especially so soon after losing your parents, is probably incredibly rough and emotionally draining. For that, I am so, so sorry! You deserve people who will love you, who will raise you up and help you be the best you can be. Based on your aunt and uncle’s behavior, I fear that they are not these people.

    Please follow the Captain’s advice to a T, and also prepare yourself for some fierce, and possibly nasty push-back from your aunt and uncle. (I truly hope it doesn’t come to that) Additionally, start rallying your Team You with a passion; go to other family members who genuinely seem to have your best interests at heart, make plans to stay with them, if possible! Speak to your friends, utilize academic resources and counseling, and get thee to a lawyer! This may or may not be a very difficult time, but I think that being savvy and secure in what YOU want for your future will help you stay the course.

    Best of luck!

  22. Your situation sounds very dangerous and unsafe to me. It’s like these people decided from the start that they own you, your things, and your money forever. If you stay to live with them, you’re not going to have any privacy or freedom, ever, even in a big expensive house. You’re 20 years old and still having to beg their permission to get a job? What even… This is awful.
    They’re going to take all your money if they can, and then maybe get rid of you because you’re all grown up now. Please treat this seriously.
    If it’s impossible to live apart from them in your country, please, please, move to another country. Move to European Union. Or the US. Or wherever. Get yourself to a safe place. Think: if they were so unhappy with you that they kicked you out, where would you go? Then go there.

    1. Think: if they were so unhappy with you that they kicked you out, where would you go? Then go there.

      This is exactly what I did when leaving home. It was very hard to get myself to go, even though it was a nasty house full of manipulative meanness. I finally made myself think, “By doing X horrible thing, they have kicked me out. I am clearly not welcome there. Since I can’t go back, where can I go?”

      It made me realize there were so many options I hadn’t considered before. Some were not great (homeless shelter? cardboard box?) some were better (staying with friends, renting a room). I ended up moving in with a friend’s family until I was able to get a place of my own. Your set of options may be very different from mine, and they may be extremely difficult or unpleasant, or maybe even dangerous. But don’t forget that family can also be unsafe. You should do whatever you need to keep yourself healthy both physically and mentally.

      1. And to be honest, different kinds of unsafe can be dealt with in different ways. The unsafeness that comes from emotionally manipulative family members can be REALLY hard to protect yourself against, in comparison to some other kinds of unsafe. It is incredibly difficult to be constantly on your guard against your family. They’ve raised you and looked after you and you generally assume that they’ve loved you and you generally love them back and we’re really not designed to consider someone family and an enemy at the same time.

      1. I agree with this. Supporting a person in a bad and potentially unsafe situation does not equal condemnation with a broad brush of every culture outside our white, Western sphere!

      2. Agreed. This could easily be rural Ireland, for instance.

        Also, “move to another country” can be monstrously difficult depending on nationality. EU citizens moving within the EU (myself included) often forget that.

    2. Maybe don’t advice her to just move to another country unless you can offer her practical advice on how to do so as a 21 year old undergraduate with no job. A large inheritance would help, but is still not by any means a slam dunk. Depending on where she lives and who her aunt and uncle are, she might not even be able to get a visa out of her country, let alone obtain permanent residency elsewhere.

  23. I feel this situation could rapidly escalate into physical danger for the OP. There are plenty of places where a woman standing up for herself is knocked down hard with a fist, or worse.

    OP, I understand where you’re coming from. You don’t want to make waves, and you’re a nice person. But I note that you don’t mention other family in your letter. Do you have other relatives—possibly on the side of the family that is *not* the same side as your uncle—with whom you have a good relationship, who would not be inclined to pick your pocket upon majority? If so, that might be a place you can look for support and possibly for refuge.

    If you are still at university, I do feel that exploring and pursuing and insisting on assistance there might be worthwhile also. They have certainly seen women in your situation before (whether they are culturally inclined to be helpful, I do not know).

    Getting your own lawyer involved with this, depending on how much money you have, if you can get in touch with a lawyer not associated with your family or doing business with your uncle and his associates already, would be most helpful. Getting a woman lawyer, if you can find one, might be best of all.

    With regard to your physical safety: cellphones are fairly easy to purchase. Can you purchase one that is *not* controlled by your family, with a number unknown to them, and keep it well hidden: on your person, in fact, if you are likely not to be personally searched? This will help you be safe.

    Set an access password on your laptop and, if challenged, say blandly that some of your files were not as you had left them and you cannot risk your schoolwork. I don’t think they’ll push too hard on that one.

    If there is not another member of the family you can go to, you will need to leave. If this aunt and uncle don’t get hold of your money outright, they’re going to find some other way to do it—marriage arrangments, who knows. So go. They did what was right, taking you in; taking your inheritance is not right.

    They think they have you cowed and under control. You are still allowed out, to classes and so on. Good. While they are waiting, you need to pull your stuff together, and that means minimum, minimal, essential, not-suspicion-raising papers and a very few personal items, and get out of there *before your birthday* because that will be when they could start escalating seriously, because of the money being available. Ideally, go at least three months before your birthday. If necessary deposit things with a *trusted* friend or faculty member who will hand you your things when you ask, without cracking under bullying or pressure from your uncle.

    I know that reality and the law can be far apart. I hope that you can get yourself legally out of this situation without a great deal of grief in reality. A lawyer representing you, not a family lawyer, will be a very good first step toward your best outcome.

    Finally, if you have more education time coming, take some accounting and business classes, because women should know how to deal with money and handle their own money affairs. Money is power! You deserve power over your own money.

    Good luck. Please post a followup. Post a dozen followups. We’re cheering for you!

    1. Hey, LW here. I actually posted a follow up below, before I read this, but the last part made me smile. I actually am studying business administration and I keep my expenses in a spread-sheet that’s locked so they can’t see it.

      Thank you so much for the concern.

  24. Hey, this is the LW. Thank you all so much for your comments, and for your concern. I wasn’t intending to write a wall of text but everyone’s just been so amazing, I want to assuage your worries.

    I live in an Islamic country with a ridiculous bureaucracy so, thankfully, nobody can touch my inheritance without first going through the court. It is the government that has control over my money and whenever I withdraw large sums (such as for college tuition) I have to be there to sign on it and prove I’m not being coerced. My Uncle can’t touch it. But i also can’t talk to the attorney, because he’s my Uncle’s.

    He says he doesn’t want me to tell relatives because if they knew he needed help they’d offer, and he’s already accepted help from some of them for my brother and I and wants to save face.

    Those who think it would be possible to live alone – well, it probably would. But a woman living alone (as in, without relatives. Living with friends is also ‘alone’) in my country is considered ‘loose’ and so they’d have some serious grounds against refusing. When I say I live in the middle of nowhere I really mean it. The closest big city is a two hour drive. It’s nothing but desert and road all around. Without a car (and of course I don’t have one) I can’t go anywhere without them. It’s the reason they gave me for not allowing that summer job. It was too far away. I’m still in my second year of college, next year I’ll be in my third, which means I’m looking at living in that house for a minimum of two years.

    I’ve actually been working part-time on the side and accumulating some money that they don’t know about, so that’s a plus for me. Initially it was just because they really restrict my spending as well, but now I’ll save it up for a cushion. I also live in the dorms during the semester, but I return home every month or so and of course I’m there for the summer. The reason I might be open to paying a certain chunk is because Uncle is the one who pays my dorm fees. I figure I could always pay that back. He says the reason he would need my help is, because of my brother and I, they need to get a bigger villa. Thankfully they’re just renting, rather than buying, but the rent of the new villa is nearly three times the rent of the one we’re living in now.

    My friend has me worried of opening the door to that sort of request,that agreeing to pay a certain sum would make it seem acceptable. I don’t think it would be at all possible to get this sort of thing in writing. In best, I might hope for sitting down and hashing it out–verbally. And even that might be so insulting.

    My Team Me is my friend, who’s offered to let me stay at her place. She leaves near college, about four hours away. There’s my college counsellor, who I’ve been seeing for anxiety. And I’ve been contemplating going to a relative who I’m not particularly close to but who seems happy to help. I’m not sure if I should tell her, though. She might do that thing grown-ups do where they say one thing then go over your head and do something entirely other.

    Again, thank you all. My 21st birthday is still a while away so it may be some time before the situation is updated. I may opt to have the discussion sooner but… yeah. I’ll be sure to inform you of any updates.

    1. I was just going to chime in here a bit about the very “western” assumptions we’re making about your situation. You have the best ability to judge what the safest course of action is for you in this situation, based on your culture. (If you have the means, in most western countries you would have probably been encouraged to move out by now. It’s just a totally different way of thinking.)

      Does the other relative live closer to a city? to your university? I’m wondering if you could find a place to relocate to and just not bring up the money at all. You’re young and trying to start a life, a career, etc, so you’re going to need to be someplace where that is possible. And it doesn’t sound like that is the case where you are. That might be a good way to manipulate your way out of a coercive situation. And it might be easier to start the whole “Rent/household expenses” conversation with a new party.


    2. LW, are you in Singapore? I have a friend there who is in similar circumstances – needing to move out, etc, etc, etc, family are assholes. I’m South Asian, so I understand the trickiness of trying to get a verbal agreement, etc; very similar mores and whatnot, in India. You don’t have to say, obviously, but I was guessing Singapore even before I saw your followup.

      THings that occur to me re: the house situation:

      1) Is your country okay with you taking guardianship of your brother? I don’t know what the laws are. But if the situation comes down to “pay for my villa because your brother lives there”, would you be in a position to make a counter-offer of “well my brother can live with me”? It is my understanding that that would be possible in many Islamic countries I can think of. In fact, the only country I can think of where a couple of siblings living together would be dicey would be Saudi Arabia. (I hope to god you’re not living there, since you’re in this situation.)

      2) Would it be possible to find other people to live with than your friend, if that happens to fall through? I’m just worried for you.

      1. Singapore is not an Islamic country. There is also pretty much nowhere in Singapore that is four hours drive away!

        In any case, if LW wanted to specify her country she could have done so. I think that’s something to avoid speculating about.

    3. I am very glad to hear about your college counselor. Maybe ask them if they know of any resources that may help? Are there any housing resources for students who can’t go home over breaks and things that would be socially acceptable (a chaperoned house, or something similar)?

      Also, are there any resources for domestic violence near your college? I volunteer on a crisis line for DV and field calls about financial issues/independent living issues, etc. which are often problems in DV situations, and if you could call to chat about those kinds of things, they might have some ideas. You would know much better than me if this would be appropriate or not.

    4. Please do keep us updated as time goes on — I’m probably not the only anxious worry-wort here who will be imagining terrible things may have happened to you, if we don’t hear from you.

      If you think there would be too many negative consequences to living on your own or with friends, then please SERIOUSLY consider that one relative that you think would be “happy to help”.

      I wish you the best in this difficult situation!

    5. Ahhhh, ok, #1) important thing: if your uncle is pressuring you because he said he ‘accepted help’ already from my family to take care of you and your brother, then he is one hundred percent not on the up and up. He is trying to make a direct line from ‘caring for minor children of dead family member’ to ‘all the numbers in YOUR PERSONAL INHERITANCE bank account’. Not ok. Horrible and mean, actually, and an awful thing to do to someone you allegedly love.

      #2) important thing: your uncle is actually making this much, much easier for you. And by ‘this’, I mean the moving out part. His reason for wanting a bigger place – you, and your annoying habit of taking-up-space. His lack of funds to be able to get said ritzy place? You, allegedly, and your annoying habit of needing to be fed and clothed. Hey! Hey, uncle! I’m going to move into the dorms all permanent like, and here is the nifty summer-long internship I have secured for this year, so, I will be taking up precisely no space in your house! Also, yeah, I’m paying for dorms myself, too. (Or shared living space on campus or in Big City or whatever.) So, sweet, you don’t need that big fancy place anymore. And if you just WANT it, well. I’m afraid I need to guard this inheritance of mine to make sure i can afford fancy-summer-internships/school/more school/a room of my own. Because I don’t have one at your house.

      #3) over the next few times you go to school, I would take all the belongings you care about. And before you have this talk with uncle, I would take you brother aside and tell him all about it. How long before probably depends on how old the brother is. Heck, maybe even bring brother to uncle conversation, because you know uncle will try the same crap on him.

      1. You’ve already lived with them for three years, after all. Now obviously small children might take up less space than almost-adults who want more space and privacy (though I’m highly dubious that you would actually get it in this new house), but a difference between 17 and 21? If you’ve had your own room for three years, why is a bigger fancier house needed? There doesn’t seem to be much logical consistency in this argument, and I suspect if you found another solution to the “taking up space” “problem” he would find some reason why that solution wouldn’t work. People like this are champion at moving the goalposts.

        Incidentally if it’s a matter of renting over buying that almost in some ways makes it more skeevy. You definitely wouldn’t be just giving him a lump sum for a mortgage deposit or anything, it’s an ongoing cost. And what if you did get married and move out in a socially appropriate manner? Would he still be expecting you to help with the costs because they moved there “for you”? Surely he’s considered the possibility, since from what you’ve said it seems like it wouldn’t be particularly expected for a woman to remain unmarried for a long time? I might be wrong about that but if you can’t live with friends without raised eyebrows before marriage, most people probably aren’t doing with their lives and jobs and everything until their 30s or whatever before getting hitched. My feeling is that he would probably attempt to dissuade you from marrying anyone he didn’t approve of, ie that would have conflicting interests from him (or dissuade them from marrying you, quite likely). Cutting off someone’s external social contacts is a universal among abusers, no matter what culture you live in. Anyway, all that ramble isn’t to suggest that there is some likelihood of you getting married of your own volition, but to show the flaws in what he’s proposing. When you reach that sort of age is when they should be LESS making long term plans that assume your compliance, not more.

        1. Yeah, and three times as much? Why would it be that much? If we’re supposedly so broke that we have to go with our hand out to our orphaned niece on the eve of her majority, isn’t it most sensible to not pay three times as much rent to accommodate a middle-schooler and a college student?

      2. Seconding the idea of telling your brother about the situation. Obviously be careful about what details you share, but divide and conquer is an old abusers trick.

    6. LW, is your brother old enough to be the buffer for outsiders not to hassle you if you two lived on your own?

      1. Afraid not. He’s just 13. That’s assuming I could get him to live with me in the first place. As legal guardian, Uncle has all the right to refuse, and since he has a stable job and house he’s a better choice than the single university student.

    7. Call me paranoid, but…
      “We need this villa because of you and your brother.”
      “We need help paying for this villa because of you and your brother.”
      …seem like manipulation tactics to guilt you and your brother to agree to give more financial help than would otherwise be fair. I would pay back the college dorm fees in a lump sum, and then pay a reasonable amount of monthly rent for a single person living in a shared house. No more than that.

    8. It’s always about money, even when it’s not about money…

      If your uncle has already “accepted help on behalf of you and your brother,” you are both by now mature enough to be informed who exactly has provided what, so you two can personally and appropriately be grateful to your benefactors.

      It really sounds as though your uncle wants to look like a big man by standing on your shoulders. Not cool. Paying your aunt and uncle back for college expenses, if they have been out of pocket for that part of your education, I could see as just and fair, but from the sound of it someone’s expectations are more about you providing them with a new house in the transports of your gratitude! If the present house situation works, and you could spare them the “trouble” of having to accommodate you by remaining in the dorms, perhaps that would be the very best thing for you. (And thus it’s unlikely they would consent unless you can get some big social-pressure guns on your side?)

      Is your brother’s situation similar (inheritance locked down until he comes of age)? Should the two of you confer in order to decide what is and is not acceptable, present a united front?

      I do see your view of the benefit of moving, but if you get entangled with your relatives’ rent obligations, they’ll hang around your neck forever—if you want to move elsewhere, or do anything like start a business or work, or get married, your money that your parents left for you should be there for you to use to support your own life. I’m also totally skeptical about a miraculous improvement in privacy etc. if this is all done secretly.

      Do you have any way of getting gossip or grapevine information about the relative who might be helpful? You may be able to get more of a “temperature test” on how active and interested she might be on your behalf before you decided whether to talk to her about helping you out of this uncomfortable place.

      Good luck!!

    9. “He says the reason he would need my help is, because of my brother and I, they need to get a bigger villa. Thankfully they’re just renting, rather than buying, but the rent of the new villa is nearly three times the rent of the one we’re living in now.”

      I think his idea is partially reasonable and partially not. Yes, as grown-up and with the means to participate economically, it does make sense that you share the living expenses. But in the matter of acquiring a larger, more expensive home – if you’re expected to participate in the paying, you should also participate in the decision making process.

      Can you and your uncle discuss and plan the moving together? I don’t think it’s fair at all to spring the tripled costs on you and expect you to pay. If you’re part of it, your needs should be taken into consideration. You need to live closer to potential workplaces, to your school, your friends maybe. You need a room that you can lock! If you’re expected to pay like a grown up, you should also be heard like a grown up.

      It would still be reasonable to cover your expenses, but only that – is there some sort of average for renting a room in a family that you can site?

      I of course don’t know the details of these things in your unknown country, but I want to stress the principle – if you’re expected to take responsibility like a grown up, you get treated like a grown up. Not told what to do, but invited for cooperation at best, negotiations at the very least.

      1. Forgive me, LW, but the bit about relatives contributing sounds like a lie. I think he doesn’t want them to know because it would look bad for him to be getting rent from his orphaned niece. I also doubt that they’ve actually made any substantial donations towards your upkeep. Otherwise, he would be throwing that in your face in a much more direct way.

        And really, if he’s indebted to other relatives for your care, why is he moving to a new house instead of…being broke until you move out? If saving face is so important?

        I understand what you’ve said about the difficulty of getting your own place, but I think you need to disentangle yourself from this living situation immediately. You do not owe your uncle any money. You are not responsible for any money he had to borrow to pay for the dependent children under his guardianship. You do not need to agree to pay for a larger house so that they are more comfortable. You should protect your own interests.

      2. All these are excellent points, and I am hoping you update us here — or on the Captain Awkward forum site, another excellent resource!

    10. >>Those who think it would be possible to live alone – well, it probably would. But a woman living alone (as in, without relatives. Living with friends is also ‘alone’) in my country is considered ‘loose’ and so they’d have some serious grounds against refusing.

      This is all really difficult stuff. And I admit I am mostly thinking this through via analogies which may be completely misplaced. However, your friend evidently does not think it would be loose of you to live outside familial protection. Are there more people like her you can surround yourself with? Are there microcultures around particular areas or particular jobs where it’s less surprising or objectionable for a woman to live with friends or by herself — i.e if you were to continue your studies to postgraduate level and tutor in the holidays, or if you had a job which required you to travel a lot, or to live in a city which unfortunately happens to be even further away from home than your current college tow? Are there ways to stretch the definition of “of course, I’m totally living with family” for public consumption? I.e, if you lived as a lodger to a motherly older woman, or if you lived with friends but *their* family came round frequently to check on you, or if you lived by yourself/with other women, but went and visited *some* family member every month or fortnight, and always referred to that as going “home”? People do this (in my country, anyway) for other reasons — “I work in the city and stay in this little apartment by myself every week night, but oh, no, I don’t really LIVE here, that’s just where I crash, my HOME is with my spouse in the country, and this is just another way of commuting.” In the West, when women living alone (upper class ones, anyway) was also widely seen as scandalous, there used to be women-only boarding houses to get around exactly this problem. And some of the women living in them still WERE seen as kind of transgressive, but not necessarily so much so that the impact on their lives would negate the value of the freedom they achieved. Is there anything at all comparable in your country? Also, you have a pretty good excuse for not doing things completely by the book to call on. You’re an orphan. Will everyone be unsympathetic to the perfectly true fact that you don’t have the luxury of living as someone with two loving parents would be able to? Suppose you did leave and lived on your own or with friends; who, aside from the family you’d left would need to know that? It seems to be okay for you to live in a dorm and go “home” occasionally. Can you create a set of living arrangements which either really IS similar to that, (with “home” being somewhere other than your aunt and uncle’s place) or which can plausibly be passed off as such?

      You best know your situation, and I don’t mean to imply any of this is easy or risk free. Some of it, in practice, might be unsafe, much or all of it may be irreconcilable with your actual circumstances. But your current situation is at best not comfortable and quite possibly unsafe too so it may be worth investigating what the actual consequences of other options would be.

      Also, could any of your friends come and pick you up if you needed it? Two hours’ drive is a long way, but it’s not so far to come and help a friend who urgently needs to be elsewhere.

    11. LW, thanks for the extra details.

      I just want to say how very, very shady it seems to me that this overwhelming need for a bigger house because there are two extra children came not when you were 17, and he had to justify to authority taking your money, but when you’re almost 21, and all he has to do to get it is browbeat you into handing it over. If it’s such a reasonable request, why wasn’t he willing to make it to the government officials?

      I really hope that you will be able to find a way to move out respectably, because I have a bad feeling that as long as you live in your uncle’s house, then that pressure to let go of your inheritance will be kept up.

      Stay safe.

    12. “And I’ve been contemplating going to a relative who I’m not particularly close to but who seems happy to help. I’m not sure if I should tell her, though. She might do that thing grown-ups do where they say one thing then go over your head and do something entirely other.”

      Can you test this out? Maybe tell your relative how much it bothers you when your aunt disposes of your things and see whether that filters back through your aunt and uncle within a couple weeks after you do so, or some such thing? I totally understand the concern, but wonder if you may be able to slowly increase things in such a way that you’ll hear about any potential two-facedness well in advance of your sharing the really important things with them. Whether or not you trust them with all of this, it might be good to know where they stand.

      Best of luck to you, LW.

    13. I don’t know if this is a safe or realistic suggestion, but if the government controls your inheritance, might they have a lawyer or someone knowledgeable you could talk to who would not be your uncle’s attorney?

  25. Have you talked to *all* of your friends?!? I know that even in countries where it is not normal for young people to live on their own, there is also a tradition of families taking others in. I know if I was your friend, my parents would take you in in a heartbeat to get you away from these people and keep your inheritance safe. Have you asked them all? It might be uncomfortable to ask, but please do! You need to investigate every avenue to take care of yourself. Don’t let tradition or guilt hold you back from taking care of yourself!

    1. I was wondering about this, too. LW, if you will have enough money to pay rent to your uncle, could you instead offer to pay rent to a friend and their family in order to be in a safer situation?

  26. LW, I wanted to share a situation when I thought I couldn’t live out of home.

    When I was 18 my home situation was rocky, there was violence and alcohol abuse and it was unpleasant. I was told that as an 18-19 year old student with a part time job I could NEVER live out of home and I would NEVER make it and would probably end up on the street.

    Two weeks after my 19th birthday I was kicked out of home and I was TERRIFIED. With the help of my friends I was able to find a share house on the opposite side of town to my parents and started paying rent with my part time job income and continue going to school. Yes I had to learn how to budget on the run but! three months in and I looked at myself and said “WOW look at you, paying rent like a boss, eating like a boss! (bosses eat ramen too….) Going to school like a boss!” and being able to look at my home as a safe space to be enjoyed and not avoided. It felt amazing and empowering that every day was a set of decisions to be made by myself without interference and fights and manipulations.

    Obviously, I don’t know what country you’re from and the legal situations there but are you sure your aunt and uncle haven’t made you think you can’t move out of home rather than what might legally be the case? You might be able to find a share house if renting on your own isn’t a financial option at the moment.

    Also at the completion of college presents an excellent time to consider leaving the area all together. It seems scary but I have every belief that you are a capable and strong young woman who would be able to make such a move work out for you.

    Family members that act like this are awful and I hope it works out. I definitely second getting legal opinions on the setup of this trust but I just wanted to let you know that getting out of family situations is possible. Good luck!

  27. I would expend as much effort as possible into researching ways to move out on your own the second that money comes into your name (and making sure it really is under ONLY your name). It MUST be possible, somehow, so I would definitely utilize all of the resources at your university/social circle/the internet (IN AN INCOGNITO WINDOW) to see how to make that happen. I bet it’s going to be a royal pain in the ass, but hopefully you at least have the financial resources and social resources to get through that.

    Make sure your brother knows you’re a united front, and that if your uncle ever approaches him about anything like this, he can absolutely defer to you and redirect Uncle to discuss it with you, since you’ll probably be getting lots of experience dealing with this bullshit. Make sure Brother knows you have his back in this. Once you’re out, it is totally fair and proper to say “I appreciate everything you have done for me and Brother so, so much. Please let us show our gratitude by letting us pay your first mortgage payment!” IF you can reasonably afford it. Do not give these people more money, and do not even crack the door to the possibility that you or your brother might be able to offer continued assistance. Happy to help with One. Payment. would be a kind and gracious gesture, and if they ask for anything more than that, ESPECIALLY after you’ve made it clear that there IS no more than that from you, then they are absolutely not on your team, and you need to separate yourself from them as quickly as possible.

    1. “Make sure your brother knows you’re a united front, and that if your uncle ever approaches him about anything like this, he can absolutely defer to you… Make sure Brother knows you have his back in this.”

      “To a point, Lord Copper, to a point… ”

      I mean, yes, it’s good for LW to let Brother knows that she has his back _to the degree that she has the legal and practical power to do so_.

      It’s important, though, to remember that 1) Uncle is Brother’s legal guardian, and LW has limited scope to intervene in that situation, 2) Brother is only 13 years old, and has been under Uncle and Aunt’s influence for a large chunk of his life.

      Putting an expectation on him to maintain a united front against them with Big Sister, or promising him support and protection that LW may not be able to provide, are both to be avoided.

      Specifically, entrusting him with secrets about LW’s plans to protect herself, or with her concerns about Aunt and Uncle’s intentions while LW is still living in the house and vulnerable to discovery, is potentially unsafe for LW and unfair to Brother.

  28. I don’t have any advice to add, but I want to make sure I see any updates from the LW, so I’m leaving this comment in order to be tagged.

  29. One more thought in terms of “owing” your aunt and uncle anything: your parents could have left the money to them in the first place, rather than to you and your brother, if they had wanted. Your uncle is not just trying to take advantage of you, he is trying to go against your parents’ wishes for you and your brother. I don’t know details, but if your father thought your uncle should be making decisions for you long-term, he could have set things up that way. He didn’t.

    That might be useful for you to remember, and it might also be helpful as a point to raise if you decide to ask about living with other relatives. (I’m assuming that the mores that make it socially acceptable for you to live with your uncle and aunt would also cover living with some other aunt and uncle, or with an older, married cousin, even if the expectation was that he would be the one to offer to take you in if possible.)

    1. Yes several points reading the post and comments I found myself thinking “your parents left you the money for a reason, not their sibling”. Possibly that was an automatic thing, like if someone dies without a will they have a standard priority system for who inherits, but I feel like people who had a reasonable amount of money to pass on and had teenaged children would probably have made deliberate legal arrangements.

  30. Have walked in your shoes LW. Please listen to the Captain. She is spot-on.

    I too received an inheritance. Previous to me actually receiving the funds, absolutely every person in my family assumed to know what was ‘best for me’.

    ‘Best-for-me’ (or you) translates to manipulation of monies away from you disguised as ‘help’. This is actually the trap-of-help.

    The minds of my family members started churning, and like you the secret talks started to happen. And the subtle guilt trips. Next came the ‘you are too little to handle this’ message. After that the gas lighting occurred where I began to question my own perceptions of reality. Soon veiled threats of psychological abandonment. And lastly came their rage.

    Everyone here on Captain Awakard has alluded to their ‘spidey senses’ going off. Mine are too. Your family may truly want to help you unconditionally, Or they have come to believe their fantasies of wanting to ‘help you’ in order to successfully make peace/justify helping themselves.

    Please do everything you can to protect yourself and your funds. Be safe. Be well.

  31. Just quickly before I read the comments, regarding photocopying documents – check what the legal requirements about copies are. In my country obviously I can’t give people my actual birth certificate to keep on file, but either they take the photocopy themselves and sign it or I can give them a copy that’s been stamped or signed by someone like a Justice of the Peace or someone at the Ministry of Social Development saying they’ve seen the original etc. A plain photocopy I did with my photocopier and nothing else wouldn’t mean much at all though.

  32. LW, I think it would be worth investing the time in getting to know the relative who is potentially an ally to see whether she gives you a sense whether she is trustworthy or not. I think discussing the inheritance situation with her right away would be unwise – you don’t know yet whether she’d go to your uncle and discuss it with him. But he’s not afraid of the family knowing *just* because he wants to save face. So perhaps when he sees you getting closer to this relative, he won’t be so quick to assume that you’re as vulnerable to his vague comments and subtle pressure as he does now. It’s not the ideal “everyone is open and transparent and acts like mature adults” situation, but you’re already in an unsafe situation and allies like this relative could strengthen your position and give him pause when he assumes he can pressure you without the family knowing.

    1. I agree. When I had to flee, I asked an aunt who has always been nice but I wasn’t very close to for some help. She lives states away, we’ve never spent much time talking one on on, but she always seemed like she wanted good things for me. She said yes immediately and has become someone I have great affection and respect for.

      LW, since you have some time before you turn 21, start getting to know your relative better – she may think everything is fine, doesn’t want to interfere, and would be very concerned to hear what’s actually going on. If you find she’s trustworthy, she may be able to advocate for you and/or help with things like finding a new attorney. I hope things work out well for you 🙂

  33. whilst I don’t live in an Islamic country, I have had friends who have done so and who are living in the EU within Islamic countries. I suspect that, while the advice that the LW has received is well intentioned and good, a lot of us don’t really appreciate how impossible it is for the LW to leave home to live by herself or even with a group of other women. To do so would affect the whole of the rest of her life, because she would be seen (her words) as ‘loose’ that is a huge deal in Islamic countries. HUGE. it will affect everything for a long long time.

    so perhaps LW as someone else suggested, you try and extend the definition of ‘living at home’ can you live under the protection of a different uncle/older female family member..in a different house… you have the excuse that your uncle has given you in that you take up too much space. Ditto family friend, parents of your friends..people will want to help you once you let them in.

    Definitely definitely get copies of all documents as much as you can, without causing suspicion, i would add to that and recommend that you scan them in and upload them to a free service like dropbox.com don’t download dropbox to your computer, just use it online on a private window. That way you will always have access to copies of important documentation. I would also suggest that you start keeping a log of conversations and suggestions from your uncle, just so that you cannot be gaslighted in the future, you will have a record.

    I agree that your Uncle and Aunt are raising huge huge red flags, so as the captain said, lay your plans so you have some kind of an escape. Once you have that, I would suggest that you start telling people in your family circle what is going on, this situation needs some light and air and people with more power to monitor what your Uncle is doing. I am not suggesting that you are powerless, you can make decisions and try and get out of there, but right now your uncle does have power by virtue of being an older man in a male dominated world.

    i would also seek out some kind of female counsellor in your college. When you live in a male dominated world, you have to first work to make yourself safe within that structure, before you try and change it. A female counsellor is likely to have already found ways to navigate that male power structure that you don’t yet know.

    thanks for the updates to your story.

  34. sorry to edit the above I meant ‘I have had friends who have done so and some who are living in the EU within Islamic families’

  35. Most people have been assuming that a hidden agenda on the part of the uncle and aunt imply animosity or at least lack of feeling. (I tend to agree, honestly.) It is possible, however, that they have no ill intent. They see their own control of this inheritance as an opportunity to place the LW in a position where they can continue to make her life choices for her in what they honestly believe to be her best interests. They want a nicer place so that she will be happier staying with them as an adult and so that her younger brother will be able to benefit as well. Confronted, they would tearfully admit to a bit of “manipulation” but would absolutely deny a desire for personal profit. They might even mean that.

    But—and this is crucial—their intent does not matter at all. Their motives might be pure, but the effects on the LW are the same as if they were evil guardians from a Victorian novel. The LW is absolutely right to reject this bid for control and should feel absolutely no guilt in doing so. She does not need to judge her relatives as people to judge the effects of their actions on her life. And she does not have to feel bad about making choices and taking action to make her life better. It is just as important that we be able to save ourselves from those who love us as from those who hate us.

  36. The whole question of secrecy –
    I fully believe that any secret that does not come with a ‘reveal by’ date is there to protect the bully from getting into the trouble he rightfully deserves.

    Good money-secret:
    “Don’t tell mom that we’re spending this money until she opens her birthday present!”
    Mom finds out early – but we were gonna tell on your birthday!
    Mom finds out later – because you told her.

    Bad money-secret:
    “Don’t tell mom that we’re spending this money, ever!”
    Mom finds out early – you’re in big trouble for spending the money & keeping secrets.
    Mom finds out later – you’re in ever bigger trouble for both reasons…

  37. LW, please be careful. I am worried for you. You may want to look into getting a PO box, so you can send and recieve mail w/out your aunt and uncle knowing. Are there organizations to help abused women and children in your area? They maybe be able to advise you. A church may be another option. Some (or maybe most) in your area may support your uncle’s POV, but there may be some progressive or liberal churches.

  38. LW, you sound like you have a very good head on your shoulders, and a very good notion of just what and how much you have at stake, here.

    I don’t necessarily assume that it’s entirely out of line for your uncle to ask for some contribution, because I truly don’t know if, for example, his family is much poorer than your parents were, but the way he’s handling it make me – and much more importantly, YOU and your friend, who knows your society and your family – VERY uneasy.

    The only suggestions that I can offer that haven’t been covered in great – useful – detail elsewhere are:

    1) Do please do some very careful research on your legal situation. It’s not that I think you’re ignorant or foolish, but very often what people who haven’t previously needed to know much about the law “know” about the law – especially around inheritance and guardianship, because they’re such popular fodder for stories, family kerfuffles, movies, etc – turn out to have a generous helping of “what everyone knows”, and it’s not necessarily all true.

    While you’re doing that research, do some on the financial picture – yours AND, if possible, his. In particular, find out if you can whether your parents left any money to – or available to – your uncle for the support of you and your brother. It will probably make a difference to what you feel is fair.

    I mean, yes, as family it’s not unreasonable for your parents to expect them to take you in and treat you as their own, but it’s also not unreasonable for you to take into consideration whether they’ve suffered financially for doing it, or felt poor because they’ve had to deny their children advantages you’ve had or whether – and I suspect that this is much more likely – the two families were at a fairly comparable level of wealth, they’ve already HAD ample funds – their own or your parents’ – available to them for your support, etc.

    2) *If you feel that you can safely do so*, I would first of all run the smallest, lowest-risk test possible of your uncle and his intentions: for example, IF the worst possible reaction he could have to you telling him that you need him to a) explain precisely what kind of financial contribution he is looking for to you b) on the understanding that you may discuss it with a friend to get an outside perspective c) and that in any case if you do make a contribution to the family finances you will want to have everything in writing for your protection and his, is a reaction that you can live with, that isn’t going to put you or your brother at risk or make your daily life awful, THEN I would start there.

    If he is a bit taken aback but basically willing, makes reasonable requests, and explains that he doesn’t expect you to keep your discussions _secret_, he’d just rather you keep it somewhat _private_, say, not tell the whole family every detail, because he’s a bit embarrassed, but will understand if for some reason you feel you NEED to talk about it, that’s worth knowing. If he’s deeply affronted and makes a huge fuss about how suspicious and untrusting you are, he’s only trying to do what’s best for you, how can you be so ungrateful etc etc, well, that’s information, too.

    BUT, If you think that there’s a real possibility that his response will be much worse than that, that it’ll lead to you being more isolated, that it may endanger you or your brother, if you feel sick at the idea of putting him to the test like that, please, *listen to your instincts, go directly to stealth mode, and start planning to get yourself and your inheritance to safety in a way that does not depend on his or your aunt’s goodwill*.

    What little I know of Islamic law around inheritance strongly suggests that pressuring, defrauding, or impoverishing women, family, or orphans is deeply, deeply frowned upon; even if that fact isn’t much practical help to you, and of course religion is always greatly mediated by local culture, so it may not be, please do keep it in mind yourself, and, if you have to be sneaky and stealthy in order to keep yourself and your future safe, please remember that you shouldn’t have to be, and you’re absolutely not the one in the wrong. Because families, everywhere and in every culture and faith, are big on reminding children to be grateful and straightforward and honest and respect their elders, and abusive families get a lot of mileage out of that fact when someone tries to get away. If you have to choose between being “good” and being safe, that’s your aunt and uncle’s fault, NOT yours.

    Good luck.

  39. I don’t know how you might go about getting a lawyer of your own in your country, LW, but could you at least speak to your counselor about it? I really feel that that might be your best way to go. Your uncle’s lawyer may be a fantastic attorney, but I agree that to have him represent you and your uncle would be a conflict of interest.

  40. I am worried for this LW.

    My own experience was, after Id left home & was renting several hundred miles away, my family would be evicted from their rented home if they couldnt buy it. They were unemployed & on benefits. Their solution? get a friendly lawyer to apply to buy it under interest-only mortgage in my name, I would then nominally rent it to them & theyd pay the interest.

    I found out when the papers arrived and they made like it was nothing & I should just sign. Theyd even done credit checks using my details as if it was me, wtf?

    Of course there were red flags. Would this affect my credit? stop me getting a mortgage on somewhere of my own? what if they defaulted? and when they died it wouldnt belong to us anyway as the mortgage was interest only so there was no house to keep or inherit…

    but this was a regular family who were just desparate. I didnt know how to say no! (in the end I found an excuse for it to fall through).

    This came out of the blue from my regular family who I guess were desparate in order to try it. I still had to protect myself.

    LW, your situation is far scarier as you live with them & they can control you. Please ,protect yourself, get yourself away from there, dont meet them without a witness (even if presented as a friend who is just hanging out) and please dont spend one penny of that money without advice. Imagine you meet someone, want to live with them / get married… your money is for your future. Dont spend it right now just because of pressure and no immediate alternatives. It sounds like you need it for when you escape.

  41. I may be completely wrong, but it feels to me like LW is from a culture where families stick together, perhaps one where the children live at home until (or after) they are married, and perhaps one where females have fewer rights and opportunities.

    I say this as I am worried that LW will read the fantastic advice from the Captain, and the commenters, and justify to themself ‘yes, but that doesnt apply to my situation because…’ or ‘I wish, but I could never actually do that because…’

    Whether Im right or not, LW does seem to feel they should be ‘grateful’… it is easy to get into that mindset… and not necessarily healthy to think that way.

    So LW, whoever and wherever you are, please remember you are a human being, you deserve to be happy. Look after yourself and think of what your parents would want for your life and future. However hard it may seem to take the advice of protecting yourself, copying documents, getting advice, making a plan… even if that breaks the mould for your family or background, please have the confidence to do it. Once youre in a stronger position you’ll be able to reach out to your brother too. This money is for your future. Youre so young. Please take the difficult decisions now, and protect yourself… Im sure along the line youll be glad you did, however hard it was to do. If that doesnt sit well with you, maybe make a promise with yourself youll make amends to your uncle if you feel the need, in X years or when your brother is Y age.

    But please, listen to everyone here. Protect your money, protect your future, protect your mental and physical health and safety. Do what you need to put that in action. Dont lose the power and control over your own life. Writing to the Captain was just the first step.

    I really hope you can update us at some time – til then, Im thinking of you & wishing you all the best.

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