#1061: “My uncle coerced my elderly grandma into ‘lending’ him money. How do I let him know that’s not okay?”

Dear Captain,

Earlier this year my uncle (mother’s brother) coerced my 85 year old grandmother (his own mother, who is increasingly blind and deaf, has been housebound and reliant on in-home care for the last few years, with some memory loss/mild dementia) into “lending” him a four-figure sum of money that represented a significant chunk of her overall net worth. He claimed he had a mortgage coming through in a few days and would pay her back then. That was several months ago and he has still not paid her back. My grandmother admitted to other family members, but not to him, that she didn’t want to give him the money and felt coerced but didn’t know how to say no.

Since then we’ve taken steps to protect my grandma and her finances (my mother now has power of attorney but my uncle doesn’t, her chequebook is no longer kept in her house, her bank have been alerted that she is at risk of financial abuse and have put a watch on her account for large sums going out), but there’s nothing we can do about the money she already gave my uncle; in the eyes of the law and the bank it’s assumed she’s legally able to consent to giving such a gift, though I have serious qualms about her actual ability to properly consent, the fact that she said she felt coerced, the ugly power imbalances in play etc.

My mother’s reaction has been disappointing but not surprising. I learnt at a very young age that I couldn’t rely on her to have my back if her own anxiety was in play, and in this situation she refused to intervene because she was afraid that her mother/my grandmother “would be mad at her for getting involved” and she prioritised wanting to avoid that conflict over actually keeping her vulnerable parent safe. She doesn’t approve of what my uncle did, but she’s been expressing this mostly in Marge Simpson disapproval noises rather than, say, actually having a conversation with him about the fact that he did something so gross and unethical.

No one, as far as I can tell, has actually called my uncle out about what he did. I know I can’t presume to understand someone else’s financial circumstances, but this is a man who owns and rents out multiple properties, who pays no tax because his job is overseas most of the year and who has non-vulnerable family members with significant savings – there are at least two other people in his life whom it would have been more appropriate for him to try to borrow money from, and it sickens me that instead he strongarmed the most vulnerable person in the family.

My uncle and his family still send me a Christmas gift each year, usually a small amount of cash. What he did to my grandma is a huge violation of my own ethical boundaries, and I feel really uncomfortable taking money from him. I’m also experiencing a strong desire to call him out somewhere publicly and make him suffer and feel afraid the way he made his own mother suffer and feel afraid, in spite of not generally being a vengeful person.

However, I’m a pretty reserved person and don’t generally share how I’m feeling, and the idea of making a big deal of this (either on social media or in person) is horrifying to me despite the fact that I feel like there should be more personal consequences for him as a result of his actions than he’s currently experiencing. I’m feeling strong pressure from my mother to keep my mouth shut about this, because she doesn’t want drama either, but the idea of him getting away with this eats at me. I also don’t know whether my aunt and cousins know that he did this, and whether they approve of his actions or not if they do know about it. On the whole they’re a more emotive/dramatic family than we are and I can see a public callout going wrong if they decide they’re on Team Uncle rather than Team Grandma.

So, my questions: are there any classy ways to make my disgust and disappointment clear to him? To refuse a cash gift at Christmas (I just cannot take money from someone who thinks it’s okay to do what he did)? I’m really torn between wanting him to suffer and really not wanting to make a scene. It’s been a bad year to be a man who abuses power, but I’m also really aware of the extent to which I’ve been socialised to give bad men who abuse their power the benefit of the doubt – part of my discomfort around calling him out is that small voice saying “well maybe there are extenuating circumstances you don’t understand and you should avoid making a fuss just in case”. But I really don’t think he should be able to walk away from this with his reputation intact.

What to do?


Fuck You, Uncle Dickbag


Here is where we differentiate between “solving the problem” and “making a tiny gesture that might make you feel better.” Your mom has taken every possible step to stop this from happening again. You can’t make her confront your uncle or mold their relationship into something that it isn’t. There is probably no way you can get your Grandma’s money back from him or get the family to react to him as you do. So what can you do? You mentioned his annual gift. What if you gave the money to your Grandma and sent him a nice note in a pretty card that said something like this?

“Dear Uncle & Family,

Thanks so much for your gift! I hope you don’t mind, I just passed it on to Grandma, so Uncle can subtract $X from the loan repayment he owes her. Merry Christmas!

Alternately, send the cash back with the card:

“Dear Uncle & Family,,

Thanks so much for your gift! It was very thoughtful, but I’m returning it so Uncle can put it towards paying Grandma back for that loan. Merry Christmas!”

Is it a little passive-aggressive? Sure.

Does it solve the overall problem? No. Not every problem is solvable and this one is pretty far out of your control.

Does it let him know that you know what he did? Yes.

Does it help you to not be silent about this? Maybe? I hope so? I think that it can be valuable to stand up for yourself and your values even if the world won’t change right that second, and that we get better at this with practice.

If there is backlash it helps to have a short, repeatable statement ready, something that truthfully names the behavior and that is hard to argue with: “Until Uncle pays Grandma back for that loan, I just don’t feel right taking money.” Keep the focus on you & your feelings – “You can do whatever you want, I just don’t feel right taking money from him knowing that he owes Grandma so much money.” 


95 thoughts on “#1061: “My uncle coerced my elderly grandma into ‘lending’ him money. How do I let him know that’s not okay?”

  1. Right on as ever, Cap’n, except—don’t return the money to Uncle Dickbag! Passing it on to Grandma with note to Uncle D is just right.

    1. Seconded. Just keep doing that every year…

      I want to add, though, that if LW’s grandma is anything like mine (not so financially vulnerable, but mild dementia, devoted to her sons even though one of them is a bit sleazy), she won’t take the money from LW directly. Maybe don’t even tell grandma, just have mom put it into grandma’s bank account (if she’ll do that).

      1. Or put it towards Grandma’s groceries, if you’re able to see her often and can “just pick up a few things, since I saw you were getting low” (which means you don’t have to involve your mom, who might or might not be comfortable with that? Who knows?)

        1. I like this approach. It gives Grandma something she needs (and is highly unlikely for her to just hand back to Uncle Dickbag), and is simple to execute if you see her more or less regularly, or run errands for her.

          1. This is so perfect that the rightness of it left me wondering how does The Captain come up with these wonderful ideas.

    2. Is it passive aggressive? Maybe. But it doesn’t seek to deceive or misdirect. It just puts it all out there. I’m not sure if that’s passive aggressive unless you include the cheery bits. If you take those out its totally the best smack down of a family borrow shark ever, hands freakin down!!!! Bonus points if you let people know on a serious way, that you’ve done so.

      1. Personal riff on passive aggressive – I’ve always been pretty proud of the fact that an old boyfriend once said “you’re not passive aggressive, you’re just aggressive aggressive!”

        I’ve mellowed into assertive with old age and fatigue but it’s still one of the few things he said to me that warned my heart. I’m all for politely putting it out there.

  2. Captain, I’m so glad you called it out in the tags. This is elder abuse. I think that LW’s mom has done everything possible to keep it from happening again, and it sounds like there’s nothing that can be done about it legally, but EVERYONE ELSE, please watch your vulnerable loved ones for this sort of thing. It’s super, super common and literally billions of dollars are taken every year from older adults in this situation.
    /works in this field

    1. Depending on where the LW lives, they may wish to report the uncle to Adult Protective Services (or the equivalent) for elder abuse. That may give the uncle something to think about and give Grandma more protection.

        1. Thank you for this. And I can’t help wondering how much Uncle’s thing with the taxes is truly legit, though the OP may not want to lob that particular grenade.

          1. Yeah… “pay no taxes because working overseas” COULD mean that he pays the taxes overseas, and not in the country where LW lives, which is completely legit, or it could mean some kind of tax dodging scheme. It would take a lot more information and looking at the specific countries involved to tell which it is though.

    2. My dad’s memory has gone to pot, and he won’t let go of the idea that he’s in charge of his finances, despite the fact he can’t organize his paperwork, isn’t paying credit card bills on time, etc. I just know some snake is slithering closer, waiting its chance.

  3. This answer is exactly what I was thinking as I read the letter. Who cares if it’s passive-aggressive? If someone in your family actually gets mad because you gave Uncle Dickbag’s cash gift to Grandma and let everyone know why you were doing it, but they’re not mad enough to actually talk to Uncle Dickbag about how swindling money out of his elderly mother is wrong, then that person can go jump up their own ass.

    1. Same, although I hadn’t thought of the card part. I just kept thinking, pass the Xmas cash straight over to Grandma. That way you’re not taking unethical money, and you’re helping Grandma out a little bit to recoup her loss.

      The only thing with the note is, do you think Uncle D would stop giving the Xmas cash to OP then? Because if he gets his fee-fees hurt over being called out on this and stops, then there’s a source of (slow, partial) repayment for Grandma that disappears. Might be more practical, although less satisfying, to just shunt the cash over to Grandma and let Uncle D think things are still fine so he keeps giving. Milk that particularly unethical cash cow for all it’s worth, and all that.

      1. Yeah, he’ll probably stop after that first year. A couple years ago I signed a substantial check from my deadbeat father over to my brother, who needed the money more, and did it ON THE CHECK so that if Father ever checked the deposit photo in his bank account, he could tell that I didn’t take the money. I haven’t received anything else from him since then.

        But LW should still do it and write the note.

      2. I have no idea how much Uncle gives the LW, but it’s probably just a tiny fraction of what he borrowed, and given Grandma’s age it’s unlikely there will be so many Christmases that LW would be able to actually transfer the entire debt amount. So IMO it’s really about the gesture more than it is actually about making Grandma whole.

      3. If uncle is such a shitbag that he’d rip off his own mother, there’s no way a cash gift doesn’t have invisible strings attached. Past gifts from uncle shitbag should be considered advance payments for hush money. It’s going to be enough to help pay back Grandma, and LW doesn’t want to let uncle shitbag think she’s ok with his shit.

        1. I mean to say: any future “gifts” from uncle shitbag would not be enough to help pay back Grandma, so no real loss if uncle shitbag stops sending $ to LW.

    2. Honestly if someone gets mad that you’re using your money – something becomes yours when you are given it – to support your elderly grandma… they should do some self-examination.

    3. I think this is an excellent example when passive aggressive is exactly the right way to communicate.

  4. Yes, completely! Give the money to your grandma and let your uncle know why. To do what he did, it’s possible your uncle has no shame and your message will make no difference to him, but just maybe it will spur him to actually make good on his promise to repay her.

  5. Ugh, this is so terrible. I can’t believe someone would do this to their own elderly mother. At the very least you can make it quite clear to your uncle exactly what you think of him. Make it uncomfortable for him, you know?

    Also, I would advise contacting a lawyer, LW. This is what they’re for! Good luck!

  6. I am sorry you are going through this. I went through similar and the family hushed things up even after I called social services and made a safeguarding report about the financial abuse my grandmother was enduring. CA is right about how useful it can be to draw your own line in the sand re: your integrity. If you cannot protect your grandmother or get the money back, you can honour the integrity and honesty you believe in (of which I am sure your grandparents would be proud.) Be the adult in the room who can stand in their truth, if only in a card mailed back, it might be a source of support for other family members who have been too uncomfortable or intimidated to do the same.

  7. My uncle also took a large sum of money from my Grandma, and never payed it back. Then he fought my mom for power of attorney, even though he lived on the other side of the continent in a different country and my mom was driving 5 hours to my Grandma’s house each weekend to make sure she was okay and then pack up her house and move her into a facility close to us when she couldn’t manage on her own. He never helped us with any of the difficult stuff for the last five years of her life, I don’t even think he came to see her at all.

    When my Grandma passed away, he didn’t even come to her funeral. He then sued my mom, claiming she mismanaged my Grandma’s money and estate, claimed he never got his share of the inheritance, and a whole bunch of other b.s. He put my mom through years of stress and legal battles just to be the world’s biggest dill hole. She finally won the suit, and he’s not getting any more of her time and money.

    He’s a huge dickbag, and he’ll always be a dickbag, and I comfort myself knowing I never have to have anything to do with him ever again. I hope he steps on legos for the rest of his life.

    LW, I hope your uncle is less of a dickbag and will content himself with the money he’s already coerced from your Grandma. If your mom’s not already keeping meticulous records of your Grandma’s finances and expenses, please encourage her to do so, because if your uncle acts like mine, that paperwork will help her out a lot in the long run. Good luck and jedi hugs!

    1. My dad comes from a relatively small family. One of his uncles never had kids, and in the last years of his life, my dad was the one to look after him and his wife. This included frequent trips two provinces over to help two elderly people who were gradually losing their faculties on top of massive health problems. My great-aunt died first, and when my great-uncle passed a couple of years later, my father thought that at least we could all grieve and then move on with our lives.
      NOPE. Turns out my second cousin (the daughter of my father’s cousin) had at some point turned up and convinced Uncle to not only leave everything in his will to her, but to make her the executor. Personally I think she was probably not very clear on what the executor’s job is. It doesn’t mean you get all the money, it means you’re responsible for seeing to it that the will is carried out. This generated a huge issue because when Dad turned up to tie up loose ends, he wasn’t legally allowed to do anything. Including, and this is the bit that stings, deal with Uncle’s body. This woman is not the most reliable human being in the world, and days of frantic phone calls ensued trying to get a hold of her. Dad ultimately had to get a court order just so Uncle could be cremated and funeral arrangements could be made, and everything else had to stay in legal limbo while Dad searched for our dumbass relative.
      Finally, something like two months after Uncle’s death, my parents were out for the night and the phone rang. I picked it up and guess who it was. I was understandably not particularly warm towards my cousin on the phone, and she apparently complained about that to my father when he FINALLY got a chance to talk to her.

  8. This is 100% elder abuse and I think the first option that Captain suggested is the best. I understand that it’s frustrating that your mom hasn’t confronted your uncle but she really may be doing it to keep the peace for your grandmother. My mother bit her tongue over a huge amount of money my aunt owed her for another aunt’s funeral for much longer than she wanted to keep the peace for my grandmother. She knew that my aunt was the type to drag my grandma into the fray and mom didn’t want that. What I would suggest, beyond what your mother has already done, is to make a plan for the things your grandmother owns that may be cause for more drama once she passes. Your grandmother should makes plans for her belongings so there isn’t a relative who sweeps in, puts post-it notes on stuff they want, and loads it into a u-haul while others are blinded with grief. (Pretty sure that happened to another commentor here on another letter). BTW… if it makes you feel better…my mom did hold her tongue until the day of the wake for my grandmother when my aunt said something about money my grandmother had owed her. Ooooh boy! It wasn’t a pretty fight but Mom didn’t hold back! Oh…and your Uncle sucks!

  9. Oh, LW, I’m so sorry.

    I have to say, having unpleasant memories of some of the crap MY aunt and uncle pulled on my grandparents, I’d go much harder than the Captain suggests. I almost never feel like the Captain is not going hard enough, but with this I do.

    He extorted a large chunk of money from his disabled, elderly mother. Had he not been stopped, he’d’ve cleaned her out.

    On the posters and flyers at the awesome care home where my Mom spent the last years of her life this behaviour was called financial abuse, because this behaviour is abusive.

    This is Darth the non-romantic edition right here. And while many people do one abusive thing in their lives, realise what they’re doing, and fix their shit, this sounds pretty premeditated and slick and he seems to feel he’s gotten away with it.

    So even though I know doing this is going to suck for you (although this ALREADY sucks. The suck is not coming from you) and I’m really sorry, unless it is going to put your grandmother’s comfort or your safety at serious risk, I think you should probably let your family know in clear and unambiguous language that your uncle strongarms vulnerable people for large sums of cash, because we’re all one very bad day away from becoming that vulnerable.

    I would definitely take his money and give it to your grandmother. I would not dress it up nicely, I would just do it.

    I would probably strongly encourage other family members he gives gifts of cash to do the same.

    I’d be sorely tempted to borrow a large chunk of money from him, hand it over to your grandmother, and tell him what you did and why he’s not getting that money back.

    I would possibly depending on HER level of anger, her current level of cope, and her present level of legal competence, suggest to your grandmother that she see her lawyer (he’ll come to her) and change her will to cut him out, stating why bluntly in the will itself. His share can go to a charity. He will not be able to accuse your mother of profiting and unless he has no sense of shame at all he will be reluctant to challenge in court a will that included the statements that he coerced money from her.

    And I would absolutely respond to family members who want you to soften your tone about this with “OK, what do YOU suggest I refer to extorting money from his disabled and elderly mother as, family member?” and “If [Uncle] wanted me to speak of him nicely he ought to have treated his mother decently.”

    I’m not saying you should do these exact things, or that you need to go this hard.

    But LW, if you need Just One Ally, I’ve got your back. That thing you saw? That thing is elder abuse, and it is SUPER fucked up.

    1. LW, I would suggest not borrowing money from Uncle, even to give to Grandma. He sounds like the kind of guy who get it in writing and then would be able to take you to small claims court.

      1. Yeah, fair. I suppose if he insisted on it in writing I’d abort, and I’m not sure I’d actually go that far unless my grandmother was in genuine financial distress.

        It is also possible that having once seen my grandmother’s tears and anger because my uncle had taken over her financial affairs “to spare her trouble” and when she said she needed some money on hand gave her A FIVE DOLLAR BILL, I am, twenty-five years later, still deeply deeply angry and not entirely objective here.

        (I got Gran a lawyer, introduced them, and then went entirely away and left the two of them alone while he asked her what she wanted and wrote it down. My aunt and uncle never forgave me, nor I them. But Gran had things as she wanted them.)

    2. Agreed on the will thing. Have it documented that any unpaid loan amount is deducted from his inheritance – with interest!

    3. If a 4-figure sum represents a significant portion of Grandma’s total net worth, there is not going to be an inheritance to cut him out of.
      If the family is not already supporting Grandma, it won’t be long. It is really expensive to be old. It is shockingly expensive to be old and sick. And dying isn’t cheap either.

  10. I always like to error on the side of “maybe there are extenuating circumstances you don’t understand and you should avoid making a fuss just in case”, but I think simply asking about it should be an option on the table. For example, ‘Uncle, Grandma said that you borrowed some money and haven’t paid it back. What’s going on there?” Depending on the answer, I’d follow up with something dispassionate but guilt-trippy, like “Well, I know you’ll do the right thing and pay her back. I hope to see you get this all worked out soon so Grandma isn’t so upset anymore.”

    I don’t think going off all hardcore is going to be the right thing to do regardless, but you want to communicate that you have your eye on the situation and hopefully inspire him to do the right thing.

    1. YES.
      I was wondering if I missed something. What if Mom/Grandma/Brother in Law called and said, “Hey Uncle, I don’t know if you realized this but that loan you got from Grandma has put her in a difficult financial place. When do you think you’ll be able to pay her back?”

      He might say, “I know nothing about such a loan!” = DBag
      He also might say, “Oh my gracious I actually [reasons]! I’m wiring it today.” = Irresponsible/Poor Boundaries but not DBag.

      Alternatively, LW can say to Mom, “Hey Mom, about the financial stuff with Uncle and Grandma, has anyone actually just asked Uncle politely to pay back the loan?” If the answer is no, “Is there a way you could do that?”

      If those don’t work, then I think the captains advice is great.

      I mean, if conversations like this have already happened, I understand making Uncle out as a jerk who needs to pay it back… however it doesn’t sound like anyone has actually used their words to the *person they have a grievance with*.

      1. “My grandmother admitted to other family members, but not to him, that she didn’t want to give him the money and felt coerced but didn’t know how to say no.”

        “[Mom] doesn’t approve of what my uncle did, but she’s been expressing this mostly in Marge Simpson disapproval noises rather than, say, actually having a conversation with him about the fact that he did something so gross and unethical.

        No one, as far as I can tell, has actually called my uncle out about what he did.”

      2. “there are at least two other people in his life whom it would have been more appropriate for him to try to borrow money from, and it sickens me that instead he strongarmed the most vulnerable person in the family.”

        He’s not planning on paying it back
        – at least not on any reasonable timetable. He probably hopes she will die before he makes a move, and without contract or paperwork, there will be no trail to his door. The bank statement showing the “loan” and the Grandma need to be taken to an attorney IMO. If he is not a total douche, he should be compelled to sign some paperwork on the loan. If he will not, there’s you answer, and something concrete to pass on.

        1. I agree he’s not planning on paying it back but actually, asking him about it still makes sense. Ideally in front of as many family members as possible. Abusers rely on BOTH public deniability AND private compliance, i.e. everybody KNOWING he’s not going to pay it back so not trying to get it.

          But since he’s an abuser, he may try to take being challenged out on his mother or sister or both, so, witnesses.

  11. Wow is this close to home. My brother did something similar to my grandma, who was the most amazing person in my life. She died of Alzheimer’s and it was in full mode at the time my brother took advantage. Apparently my brother’s ex-wife (who I’d call a Harpy considering all she did, pre- and ongoing divorce, story for another time) pushed him to ask grandma for over a six figure ‘loan.’ Not to excuse Brother, dude was a dick to cave to ex-wife’s milking, and in fact he DID milk grandma…Anyway.

    Unfortunately I did not learn of any of this until after she died. It cost her a significant amount of money in taxes, and actually put her house in jeopardy.

    LW, I strongly encourage you to give the money to your grandma. And don’t just ‘give’ it, make sure it is deposited, etc. Further, shame your uncle into next week, and include anyone and everyone. At family functions, when relatives say, How is it going?, tell them. “Oh good! Uncle gave me X amount of money, so I gave it to grandma to help offset his XXXXXX debt to her.”

    Now, I’m not suggesting you be ugly or judgmental or color the situation. Just state the facts and others will draw their own conclusions. The truth is a complete defense.

    1. +1 to the vocal shaming at every opportunity.

      I’m feeling some moral kinship with you, LW — I have a perhaps over-zealous sense of fairness and ethics when it comes to certain things, and I’m the person most likely to say something when everyone else wants to hush it up. Sometimes it gets me in trouble. Most of the time? It just keeps my conscious clear. This is a situation which I personally see as unequivocally Not Okay.

      Do what YOU need to do to assuage your own sense of ethics, and do right by your heart. Don’t let your family swindle you into silence the way your uncle swindled your grandmother. Your uncle is a dick. Inform him you think he is a dick. Refuse to be complicit in his dickery. Maybe others are fine with pretending nothing wrong was done, but you aren’t. Don’t waste any more energy trying to mask how uncomfortable you are. This is peak “it’s already awkward” territory.

  12. LW, good for you for standing up for your grandma and for what is right!

    Even if it doesn’t seem like it at the time, your actions may inspire your mom to be stronger/more vocal in protecting grandma as well. Or other family members. It’s hard to know where the ripples will go.

  13. I was my grandfathers’ power of attorney and I thank God everyday he was smart enough to get his papers/money in order before he deteriorated. He ended up allowing my drug addicted brother and his drug addicting prostituting girlfriend to move in. They pawned/sold anything that wasn’t nailed down. He’d give them $50 for groceries, they’d come back with $10 worth of food and no change. They’d sit on the porch awaiting the mailman on pension check day and brazenly described it as their “pay day.” Then she’d perform a sex act for my grandfather for money. They forged withdrawal slips while impersonating him at the bank drive through. Got him to rent a car, even though he could no longer drive. Hounded him when he was living at a rehab facility after some surgery. I spent nearly two years fighting to stay one step ahead of them. I had the stress of TWO pregnancies during this time, too. Were it not for him having his assets secured ahead of time, they’d’ve bled him dry.

    Your mom did the smart thing by having POA papers drawn up. LW, please continue to be vigilant. Be a presence in your grandmother’s space as often as you can. Ask questions if things seem fishy – if not to solve a problem, than at least to let others know you are watching. Let your Gram know you’ll be her advocate as best you can. Tell her you understand how conflicted she feels. (It IS conflict to be at an age where you need to stand up to the very people you also depend on). There is nothing wrong with getting angry, putting your foot down, or being a bitch if you’re doing it to advocate for someone that cannot advocate for themself. When my Grampa was on his deathbed, it was me he called out for – not the brother and girlfriend that tried so hard to insert themselves in his life. I regret nothing!

    1. I’m sorry that you and your grandfather went through that. Just FYI, as POA, you do have the right to evict them from his home, to keep him safe.

    2. I must admit I still am croggled by the way cheques seem to be still ubiquitous in places like the States. I mean one thing if someone doesn’t have a bank account to do a direct deposit into, but I don’t know the last time I saw, never mind used, a cheque. It seems to be one of those extra bits of effort for the elderly and as here, scope for people to abuse the system by intercepting them.

  14. I’m struggling with aging parents, too – but luckily, we’re still at the ‘preventative’ stage. My problem is figuring out whether and when to step in to ‘help.’ At what point can you consider that people are no longer capable of making their own decisions, right or wrong? And solving their own mistakes? When “I think you are spending money unwisely” turns into “I will intervene to make sure you spend money in a way that I think is wise”? For me, it’s super important to make sure my aging parents enjoy and express their agency for as long as they can -even if that agency isn’t as ‘on the ball’ as it once was. Maybe the solution, if one is lucky enough to have resources, is to get everything into a trust managed by an objective third party. BEFORE any siblings and family members are tempted to substitute their own personal and biased opinions about how ‘best’ to spend money. Or to claim the early inheritance. Yet – timing. And the difficult conversation convincing them to agree to a trust arrangement.

    No matter what you do, though, it all sucks because getting old sucks and everything is the worst.

    1. i struggled with this, too, with my ailing grandfather. It is hard when they’re at that crossroads of still being relatively independent but starting to make some reckless decisions or be easily persuaded to do things they normally wouldn’t. What worked for me (I had power of attorney) was using the same strategy I’d use with a child. Limit the choices and only offer choices that I could support, or had the ability to carry out, or that were in line with what he could afford. So, for example,

      * I will take you grocery shopping on Monday or Wednesday, which works better. (These were my 2 days off).
      * You can get your new recliner from Store A or Store B. Which one do you want to check out? (These two stores were in his price range).
      * I will not take out money for you to buy Uncle a new car. But you can buy him a used one for $7,000 or just give him that money toward a new one. Which would you prefer? (Forced Uncle to go through me if he wanted more money. Hint: he didn’t dare).

      Trick is to phrase it in a way that allows them to make the final “choice,” when really you’ve actually limited their options, based on the level of help you can provide and/or the finances they have. My grampa would put up a good front that I was “treating him like a baby” but many times I’d see a look of relief cross his face when I’d make his choices less overwhelming in this manner.

    2. A trust managed by a third party is not a perfect option either. Here in New Mexico we’re having an ongoing public scandal about guardianship, in which several companies who provide guardianship services have been found to be embezzling their clients’ funds. The Albuquerque Journal has been doing a great job as public watchdog with their ongoing investigative series “Who Guards The Guardians”.

      1. There really are no perfect options, because whenever there’s an imbalance of power, there’s someone who senses an opportunity. My grandmother had a court-appointed guardian because my mom and aunt… well, it’s decades of family drama and bullshit stirred together. Guardian decided to apply a five-fingered discount to everything she could. Grandfather was a lawyer (practicing literally up until the day he died -mom had to call his clients and tell them not to come over when he never woke up from his nap); she and aunt at one point tried to get him declared mentally incompetent and steal from him too.

  15. Hi, LW.

    I get the urge to go full on shield maiden and kick some uncle ass on this, but your mom is likely doing what she thinks is best for her mother. She’s not letting your uncle near her or her money and she’s protecting your grandmother’s interests. Consider also that as the person with power of attorney and likely the point person for your grandmother’s care, she has a lot on her plate. Also, you’ve pointed out that the thought of calling him out freaks you out a bit, so it’s likely your mother feels the same way.

    Is she allowing your uncle access to your grandmother? Is she and the rest of the family helping him extort more money from her? Is she writing him checks from your grandmothers account? It sounds like this isn’t the case. And sometimes, in shitty family situations, it’s best to stay calm and not stir up more conflict. Not for the sake of the abuser (which your uncle is) but for the sake of the abused person and their loved ones. Sometimes it’s best to keep your eyes on their safety and security and not getting into the ring to fight a shitty dude.

    Take the money your uncle sends you and give it to your grandmother. Deposit it into her account. Write your thank you note the way the Captain suggested. You can call him out and when/if he says anything tell him in no uncertain terms that what he did was beyond shitty. You can ask him when your grandmother can expect repayment of her loan at every opportunity.

    Also, check your area for resources to defend your grandmother against elder abuse. Your mother may not want to throw down with her brother but I’m sure she’d be glad to know of things to watch out for and strategies to use in the interest of protecting her mother.

      1. He is, but it sounds like the family has already taken steps to limit his access to grandma and remove his ability to financially abuse her. It’s not like the family is doing nothing and leaving grandma totally unprotected! They’re aware of the problem and have already worked to prevent future incidents.

        The only thing they’re not doing is calling uncle out on the past incident, which it sounds like they’re choosing not to do because it would stress grandma out without providing any additional benefit. And they might well be right about that; I doubt uncle will suddenly decide to repay the loan just because he got called out on being a jerk (that’s not how abusive jerks work, generally), and the resulting conflict likely would be stressful for grandma. Since he can’t do it again going forwards anyways, I can see how OP’s mom might think a direct confrontation isn’t worth it.

      2. That article still haunts me two months later. The fact that people are so reprehensible and there’s not much anyone can do about it (at least in that case, the law was on their side) is horrifying.

      3. Several days later I am still freaking out about the idea that a stranger with minimal certifications can just seize someone’s assets and no one has any recourse… geez. And I thought civil forfeiture was bad.

        1. *no recourse outside of maybe civil lawsuits, which would be a nightmare for most people just trying to live their lives

  16. LW,

    I love the Captain’s scripts. The other thing I would suggest if you are interested is sitting down for 20 minutes with a criminal lawyer and a civil lawyer to confirm nothing can be done. The consultation is privileged, no one can or will take any steps as a result unless you tell them to, but it will help you check off whether there are any additional processes to recover the money. It might also be helpful for your mom, who may have a legal duty as power of attorney to pursue debts owed to your mom (depends where you live) even if it makes her feel bad and even if she hates confrontation. Having this framed as a duty rather than a choice, and a duty created by outside people she has no control over, can help with this. It might not be a thing where you are, but the framework could be helpful for you to understand and could offer you more tools, if you are interested in them, that are outside the realm of personal confrontation and family conflict that seems very (understandably!) fraught for you and your family.

    Your grandma is lucky to have you.

  17. Hey LW, depending on the laws where you live, what happened is probably considered elder abuse. You can make a voluntary report to Adult Protective Services (or the equivalent agency in your area) to let them know of your concerns. I would particularly emphasize the part where your grandmother said she felt coerced. This can help create a paper trail on Uncle Dickbag. FWIW, I live in California and work in a field where I am mandated to report elder abuse when I hear about it in the course of my work; what you described is something I would HAVE to report, so your instincts are bang-on that this is NOT OK.

  18. There is no worse feeling that when you witness a wrong-doing and you feel helpless as to holding the perpetrator accountable. It is enraging to see the “bad guy” get off Scott free! That’s not the way fairness is supposed to work, and though we know in our minds that fairness doesn’t really exist, it is hard for our hearts to accept that. I don’t know if Captain would agree with me, but would it be reasonable to take the passive aggressive road up a notch? Send out an email / FB post / group text to all of your family members stating that this year for the holidays, you hope that all will help Uncle Dickbag with paying Grandma back the $X,XXX he owes her by sending any monetary gifts he gives to Grandma. If you word it just right, maybe you can even look like you are just trying to do him a solid. Sometimes, just knowing that others are as outraged as you are can help you deal with the fact that Uncle Dickbag will most likely get away with his scum-baggery. I personally have to repeat “Karma, karma, karma” to myself in these situations just to keep from losing my mind.

  19. Firstly: LW, I don’t know what state you live in, and I am certainly not a lawyer. However, in my community I have seen loans like this, if documented, treated like a debt to the estate of the lender after the death of the lender. If there is a cancelled check, any supporting evidence at all, it would be well for whoever is your grandmother’s executor to keep that. If your grandmother can get your uncle to sign for this loan, that would help. However:

    Secondly: Your mother’s reaction is very telling, and I know that you love your grandmother, but the dynamics of her immediate family members involved—her mother and brother—are something your mother has more experience of than you. There are lifetimes here for which you were not present. If your mother chooses not to confront anyone over this, if she says that her mother will be angry at her for interfering, you have to believe her. Do not judge your mother. She has done and is doing what she can and as much as she is able to do. Dysfunctional families create these situations and for others not in the thick of it, it can be very difficult to understand that what looks like indifference is self-protection.

    Thirdly: If you do choose to wade into this one and sort it out yourself, you need to have goals, good advice, and plans of action. Perhaps the ideal is that he pay back the money, the fallback is that he sign a legally binding note for the debt, and the worst case is that everyone goes to court. And if you do choose to take responsibility and go into this matter, be prepared for all kinds of resistance and blowback. But I say again, I don’t think this is your battle. Silently handing on any gifts you receive from your wicked uncle may be the best path, because if you make a huge deal about passing the money to his mother, he may stop giving you cash gifts entirely.

  20. LW, I’m glad to hear that your mom has already taken the necessary steps to keep this from happening again. That would be the first priority, except it’s already happened!

    The captain is right that you have limited options for intervening here. 1. You can choose to accept the money, or send it back; if you accept the money, you can choose to keep it yourself, or pass it on to your grandmother. 2. You can choose to call out your uncle on what he did, or take your mom’s word for it that doing so will exacerbate things.

    I think you need to decide what you really want to happen. Of course ideally you’d get to tell him off, he’d be super apologetic and immediately return the cash, and everything would work out. But that doesn’t seem like a realistic scenario given he’s already shown he’s willing to take money from his elderly mother without paying her back, so you need to figure out what your primary goal is. Are you trying to get as much money as possible returned to your grandma? Do you want to tell him that he’s a jerk and everyone knows it (even though it might upset your grandma and/or make him even less likely to repay)? Once you know what your primary goal is, you can target your actions towards achieving that goal.

    1. Referring to a reply related to a previous CA advice situation, I quote: “Of the problems you see, which are Your Job to deal with?”. Deciding whether it is Your Job to call out your uncle or to inform others of his behavior or to encourage others to forward money gifts from him to your grandmother, etc. is important.

      It may be that you decide that Your Job is to: do what feels best with whatever $ gift your uncle gives you; support your mother and grandmother as best you can (may include getting information and resource help); and llimiting damage for those you care about most (mother, grandma, and yourself) by effective messages and strategies. The Cap[tain’s and others’ advice is very helpful. For me, in dysfunctional situations, the “What is My Job Here?” decision was the best first step.

      It is awful to have a predator in the family circle. I hope that you can work with your mother and others to protect your grandmother and keep things as peaceful as possible. Best wishes……..and know that Karma Usually Bites!

  21. Although the law can’t help you get your grandmother’s money back, I think family/community pressure is an important tool to be used. This loss of money could seriously damage your grandmother’s quality of life. Your uncle might not care about his mother’s wellbeing, but he may well care about his reputation within the family and publicly. People like that often do. And he appears to have the money to pay her back. Even if the pressure leads him to give it back while saving face under the guise of, “Oh, of course I meant to; I just forgot,” at least she will have the money she needs.

    The sexual harassment accusations of late have held people accountable not through legal channels primarily but through public outing. And it hasn’t been easy for the people speaking out. I say if there has ever been a moment to make a stink about something in public, this is it. The elderly are so vulnerable, and they usually have no one to protect them but family. Perhaps you can find someone else in your family to back you up.

    If I were you, I would speak to him directly, discuss your concerns about your grandmother’s wellbeing, and ask him to pay her back within a reasonable amount of time—say two months—or set up a payment plan. Then tell him if he doesn’t make good on his debt, you will feel compelled to inform the entire family so that they can start preparing to take steps to help your grandmother out financially. You can say all this nicely and neutrally (perhaps not in person for safety reasons). If he tries to slander you with the family, then you can out him for what he did. My guess is this won’t come as a surprise to anyone and they will believe you.

    I know it’s hard to spearhead a campaign like this, but your grandmother is lucky to have someone who cares like you, and she may have no one else to advocate for her. Have courage. Community pressure is an age old thing that keeps people ethical. You are on the side of right.

  22. Something I meant to say explicitly, and apparently didn’t, and I also want to tag onto e271828’s comment:

    Sure, your Mom’s reactions are important data, but your grandmother’s reactions are MORE important data.

    1) She asked for help. Telling people what happened to her is asking for help. And your Mom helped her. No blame to your Mom on the quality of the help, which was excellent. None to her for being Very Wary of her abusive brother, either — but it doesn’t necessarily mean that she’s right about what to do next. It means she’s afraid of her brother’s reactions.

    Your grandmother’s got some memory issues/sight and hearing problems/early dementia going on but from what you say she doesn’t sound unreliable or incompetent at this time, so, and I REALLY should’ve said this upfront and explicitly:

    What does your GRANDMOTHER want, here?

  23. Hi, LW. My uncle is a different kind of jerk whom I dealt with in this same way. Last year he said some disgusting things about Muslim people to other family members, yet sent me the standard Christmas check. I mailed him a card that read something like this: “Dear [Uncle], thanks for thinking of me at Christmas. It’s been a difficult year for a lot of people, so I’ve made a donation to the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Enjoy your holidays.” Then I tore up his check and wrote one to CAIR.

    (In my opinion, you should cash your uncle’s check, like CA advises. The financial aspect wasn’t the focus in my case, and anyway I had the available funds to be ultra-haughty about my disdain for him.)

    Did this cause my mom to call me to talk about why I “did that” to my uncle? It did. Did it change my uncle’s mind and make him, either retroactively or going forward, less of a shit, or a quieter one? It did not.* Was it, as the Captain says above, “a tiny gesture that might make [one] feel better”? I found that it was. Maybe you can’t solve this problem for your grandmother, or convince your mother to take the same view of it that you do, but you can absolutely decide what to do with your own money — which includes money you’ve just been given by someone who makes bad-but-not-illegal choices. I debated writing my confrontational note, but after all my normal practice when writing thank-you notes for cash is to touch on how I’m spending it. If the answer is “countering your terrible self” (and your opinion can’t harm me), well…

    *I assume. We don’t talk.

  24. We had this problem in my family also. The only thing that can be done is to try to prevent them from continuing to abuse the elder. We finally had to get the courts and a guardianship involved to stop his preying on Auntie.
    My heart goes out to you and your family.

  25. Passive aggressive is when roommates have thermostat wars or “accidentally” lock each other out of the flat (solitary cat lady FTW). The captain’s advice is a mature way to shine light on a sketchy dude, without giving him or Family a chance to pass it off as Overdramatic Youth Being Overdramatic.

  26. My mum is 84, and just slipping into a more serious stage of dementia, and my brother and I have now registered our power of attorney.
    She and my father (when he was alive) have always supported my sister and her family financially, moreso than I would have thought wise, but in recent years that has been problematic as, for example, she might, in making my sister a small gift of money (£20), have forgotten that she had already given her money that week.

    But during this year the problem escalated – my sister started helping herself to cash that was in the house. I took practical steps to prevent this, but also strongly wanted to confront my sister. My mother, however, even though she was very cross about both incidents, was adamant that I didn’t. We don’t often quarrel, but we certainly had an animated discussion about it.

    My mum’s feelings, as I came to understand them, were that firstly she couldn’t bear thinking that a child of hers had stolen from her, so she very much wanted not to have to think about it, but more importantly that she just didn’t feel emotionally robust enough to weather that kind of family storm.
    And for her, there’s something in that. The dementia makes her more – I don’t know if susceptible is exactly the word I’m looking for, because it has a connotation of weakness – but she is very receptive to the emotional climate, and stress exacerbates her memory problems.

    So in our family, if I had called my sister on her behaviour even in the most factual way possible (and I know, because I’ve drawn boundaries with her before) there would be complete denial, hysterical tears, furious phone calls, ugly Facebook messages (to other family members: I don’t have Facebook) and suicidal gestures.

    And in the end I decided my mum was right: for her, with what I knew about how my sister reacts, on balance it was better to let it go. (In the Captain’s terms, I’d have stood up for my values, but my mum would have been hurt by the backlash.)

    Sorry that’s so long: I just wanted to explain that i know where you’re coming for, admire and applaud your instincts, and even know that family members can become habituated to unacceptable behaviour, and a member of a different generation can be the right person to point that out.
    But I also think your grandma needs to be protected emotionally, as well as financially – and because I wouldn’t have thought about that before confronting my sister, had my mother not been so insistent on protecting herself, I wanted to throw my experience into the mix.

    (Your case might be entirely different: it was what you said about the ‘dramatic’ members of your family that made me think of this.)

  27. Hi,

    Seconding everyone here who says that what matters most is your grandmas quality of life. If that is currently helped more by holding family peace than by expressing your loud disgust, well I understand your frustration but.., quality of life.

    But looking to the long game:
    Ccould you get your mom to note down all your grandmas assets including the loan as an asset? And get her to get your grandma to sign it as a basically correct list.

    That would show, in the future,

    *if anyone (uncle???) asks about how the finances are going that the loan hasn’t been forgotten even if it’s not being actively pursued, and that your mom is keeping scrupulous records

    * in the event of grandmas death that the loan is considered part of the estate to be divided up. (& so naturally great proportion of uncles part will be the the loan & he might even need to pay your mom & any other sibs out). There’s nothing weird about one sib paying others out for part of an estate – it happens all the time with things like houses. Why should this loan be different?

    * if it comes to pass that your grandma needs the money in her lifetime you’ll have a paper trail back from now, when she’s presumably about as well as she ever will be again, saying that the money is there & needs to be considered.

    All good potential outcomes so far as I can see.

    In the mean time think “quality of life” for your grandma &think about giving her some of your attention & time in whatever ways work for you both. If your grandma values family unity with the dirtbag uncle over money, then she’ll probably greatly value time with non-dirtbag grandkid.

    Best of luck

  28. What he did was gross and I’m not saying it’s right or trying to defend him in any way – I just want to point out a possibly fallacious assumption on the part of the letter writer.

    There are lots of people who live beyond their means. There are lots of people who keep up appearances with multiple properties and fancy gifts who are one con away from a total collapse.

    I’m going to assume that a man who would do this to his indigent, elderly mother has already put the touch on all of his other options. I’m going to assume he’s in up to his eyebrows with all of them and Grandma was his last resort.

    If I’m right, Grandma is never getting that money back. LW’s mom did the right thing in getting power of attorney. If they haven’t done this already, they should change Grandma’s will to deduct that loan amount from Uncle’s share.

    1. How does it possibly help anyone to assume uncle shitbag “needed” the money and put the touch on all his other options first? # 1, shitbags like this put the touch on their weakest mark first. They don’t give a damn who can actually afford to give them money; they ask who they can get to cave in fastest.
      #2, If his other family members – who all appear to be better off than Grandma – turned him down because they knew he was a fraud, fuck him for ripping off his mother to keep up appearances.

      And LW and their mother cannot change Grandma’s will. They can talk to Grandma and suggest she adjust her will to account for the “loan” but they cannot do it themselves.

      1. How does it possibly help anyone to assume uncle shitbag “needed” the money and put the touch on all his other options first?

        Actually, I think apparently making that assumption is a nice way to couch the rebuke. As in, “Oh, Uncle, I couldn’t possibly take your money when you are in such desperate straits as to borrow from Grandma! I hope you are able to get your feet under you again soon.”

        1. Saying that to uncle shitbag *might* help shame him into repaying, depending on uncle shitbag’s ego, but actually assuming uncle shitbag is in desperate straits does not help anyone.

          No assumptions are necessary about uncle’s financial situation or intent. We know he coerced his elderly mother into “lending” him money she didn’t want to. Why is irrelevant.

  29. One more precaution to take– Uncle may take Grandmother for a day out, drop by a lawyer, and the next thing you know the will has been changed to favor him considerably. So while it’s a hard thing to do, it makes sense for Mother to take the necessary legal steps to have Grandmother declared incompetent to make such changes. The particular legal niceties will vary from state to state and country to country, but the essence is that while Grandmother is competent to make certain sorts of decisions concerning money and contracts (she can buy groceries), she’s not competent to make others (change her will).

    1. This just reminded me that one of the nieces took Auntie to lunch and stopped by her bank so Auntie could open some CDs in the names of nieces children. It was a huge kerfluffle between the mercenary factions. Thank goodness my mum and cousin were able to get Auntie to her lawyer and put an end to the shenanigans.

  30. LW, if your grandmother felt coerced into “lending” uncle shitbag the money, there are no “extenuating circumstances” to understand.
    He could be fucking dying of cancer. If your grandmother felt coerced, it doesn’t fucking matter what he wanted the money for.

  31. When your grandmother dies, which I hope will be awhile, your mother needs to make sure everyone knows that Uncle got his money awhile ago, and some of theirs too. If your mother won’t, then you do it.
    Betcha Uncle DickBag demands your mother account for every penny in probate court. That’s how this sort of thing always works out.

  32. Be aware of fraud when someone has vision problems. My sister and I took my mom to a lawyer to have her will updated. My mom gave me a copy of the paperwork since I will be the executor. It’s a good thing I opened up the envelope and read the contents before putting it in the safe deposit box. My sister had called the lawyer and convinced him that mom wanted HER to be the executor so he changed the name and didn’t tell my mom about the change.

    My mom is blind and couldn’t know that what she signed wasn’t what she thought it was. I got it fixed and now I read her papers to her before she signs anything. I also told her financial advisor what happened and I periodically remind him and his assistant to make sure they read everything to her before she signs it. Her mind is sharp but my sister exploited her trust and her vision problem.

  33. As many have said above, this happens All. The. Time.

    In the version I witnessed (an ex’s family), Brother 1 had borrowed some thousands of dollars from elderly mother (to build a nice deck on back of his house). Deck got built, years passed, no money ever paid back to Elderly Mom (living on small pension & SS).
    EM does not tell son directly how upset and disappointed she is (because that is how this family rolls), but complains to Brother 2 about it over the years. Brother 2 finally asks Brother 1, “Hey, what’s with that money you owe Mom? She’s really upset that you aren’t paying her back.”
    Brother 1 replied, “She doesn’t need it.”

    So yes, LW, your dirtbag uncle borrowed the money from your grandmother because he knew she was the one person he could get away with not paying back. He’s already justified to himself The Reasons She Doesn’t Need It. Your poor grandma–she knew in her gut she was being robbed, but couldn’t stand up to his bullying. I say be grateful your mom for the steps she has taken, keep an eye on him, and yes, follow the Captain’s scripts for cordially shaming Uncle Douche Canoe every chance you get. Peace and love.

  34. This isn’t about Uncle. It’s about Mother. On the one hand, she’s so conflict avoidant that she won’t call out her brother on his behavior. On the other, she has taken steps to protect Grandmother from further financial abuse. She has power of attorney, has possession of the checkbook, has taken steps to alert banks. For all her faults, she has taken on a fair amount of responsibility. Give your mother some credit, possibly thank her for all that she has done, and then protect Mother from the same sort of abuse. We know Mother avoids conflict and has done so since LW’s early childhood (“learnt at a very young age that I couldn’t rely on her to have my back if her own anxiety was in play”) I’d be scared that as soon as Uncle learns who has control of the money, he’ll go after the next person he sees as vulnerable, and that’s Mother. And Mother is vulnerable if she’s so conflict avoidant that she crumples instead of “getting involved.”

    1. Meaning: This post isn’t about Uncle. This post is about Mother. I didn’t catch my mistake until I reread 2.5 hours later. The problem is very much about Uncle.

  35. My uncle tried to swindle my grandparents out of their house by getting them to sign an alternate will. My mother and aunt litigated it for years, with mixed success. If you do reach the point where you want to talk to an attorney about this and you happen to be in California, I can recommend their lawyer (actually, their lawyer is retired now, but his son is carrying on the practice). If you’re not in California, his firm might still have some leads on who to talk to.

    Aside from that, I think the idea of giving the money to your grandmother is great. If that won’t work for some reason, an elder abuse nonprofit might also be a good place to send the money. (I don’t know anything about the linked one; it just came up in a search. It’s best to vet organizations before sending them money, as I’m sure you know.)

  36. The polite thank-you f-you letter and sending the money to Grandma is a thing of beauty.

    The only thing that could make it better is if you could work in a “bless your heart.”

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