SIL In Dire Straits

Updated on February 07, 2012
M.C. asks from Ann Arbor, MI
19 answers

I'm sorry that this is long, but I need to state the facts. Please keep in mind that my heart is in the right place, but I think I may have gotten myself in a pickle:(

Here's the story:

My husband has a sister who is 50 years old. My husband is from a small town up in northern Michigan. His dad and his 50 year old sister live up there. We live near metro Detroit. My husband's mom died a while ago and his dad is down south for a few months. The 50 year old sister has always been enabled and supported by my husband's parents, particularly his mother. As of today, his sis is up there all alone. His sister has two kids. The one son moved down here, but isn't talking to her. The other one, who is adopted, is finishing up school and going into the military. My SIL's primary income is the adopted son's money from the state and a seasonal part time job that she has. When this adoption money ends in a couple of months, she will have no means to support herself. For the past 30 years, yes, 30 years, she has not been able to secure any full time job up there in her chosen field. She has developed a bad rep with the people up there (everyone knows one another) and has not found ANY work. She suffers from major depression, but I also think she is just plain lazy and never had to grow up and be an adult until now.

She called me in a state of panic a few nights ago crying. She doesn't want to live up there anymore and wants to move down here. Now, we have made it clear that we cannot support her.

Okay, so I own a rental property in another city. The city that the property is in is a mecca for businesses, aka: jobs. I told her that if she wanted, once my tenant's lease is up, she can move into the rental, but she has to have a job to pay the operating costs of the rental (property taxes, homeowner's insurance, dues) etc., BUT she must find herself a job first in the area. I think I cut her a sweet deal, but I also think I put myself in a pickle! So, she asks me what she should do. Honestly, I think she needs someone to help her, but I sure in heck cannot help her. Does anyone know of an organization, group, government agency or person that can help her get a life? I'm not trying to be mean, honestly, she needs to get herself established. I think she needs someone like a life coach, social worker, etc. I'm at a loss here. I think I made a nice offer, but there are just some things that I cannot help her with. By the way, everyone has tried for years to tell her to pick herself up by her boot straps, but it didn't work because she had her parents backing her up. Any suggestions?

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answers from Joplin on

I have had my share of family members like this. I would not get involved at all. She will get a job just long enough to satisfy the moment. Then BOOM. you are supporting her. Yes you could get her the life coach or any the others you mentioned. She should probably start off at the Division of Family Services. Good luck.

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answers from Washington DC on

Go to the homeless shelters and womens' shelters. They can get you information on how to go about searching for a job and maybe she can secure one.
She may have to spend some time on your couch, is that too much?
Has she looked into Food Stamps and state medical? She is why we have these programs.
She does need help. Take care of her mental state, get her the meds so she can go out and be successful getting a job.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on


Sorry - she is not in dire straits. She has put herself in this situation as well as her parents. She's 50 years old. She needs to pony up and grow up. While I think it's GREAT that you want to help her out and your heart is in the right place. However, with that being said....

DO NOT allow her into your rental property. Even with a contract.

Give her the name of a doctor and get her into therapy and help for her depression.

Tell her to apply for grants to school so she can improve herself - THAT will be helping her. If you allow her into your rental property - she MIGHT do fine for a few months - then you will find yourself supporting her. And it will cause fighting between you and your husband and his father. DO NOT DO IT!!!

Tough love is what you need to do to help her. If she is depressed - she needs a therapist and drugs (possibly). If she can't support herself - she needs to do it. Especially if she is not physically disabled.

People don't need to "try" to tell her - they MUST tell her. If her father is going to continue to financially support her - she has NO REASON whatsoever to change.

Can you afford to support her in your rental property? If not. the answer is no. Tell her - we have rethought our offer - here are my suggestions for you my dear need to do this on your own. You are 50 years old. here is the number of your local unemployment office. Here is the number to a therapist who can help you through your depression and get your life straightened out - it's NEVER to late. YOU HAVE TO WANT TO DO THIS FOR YOURSELF. If she can't do that - then you can't help her. You will end up enabling her yourself.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

What is her chosen field? Heck even here where there are some really nasty people in various fields they are able to get jobs no matter how offensive they are. Perhaps you can contact recruiters or human resources in a few places for her. She probably has an anxiety or depressive disorder and you are very kind to try to help her at all. A lot of people throw their hands up in the air over these kinds of people. You are making a wonderful difference in her life.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from San Diego on

Well obviously this woman is mentally ill. Is she on meds? You did not mention RENT. Are you only charging her for the cost of the property and making NOTHING for it? If so, you will be enabling her just like everyone else has. Frankly, I'd rather put her things in storage and have her sleep on my couch until she hands me about 4-6 months of the basic costs and then enter an agreement to have the rent begin the day she moves in.

She does need someone to help her. Do a search in your area for transitional housing and call local pastors until someone can refer you to an appropriate program. I know of places locally that help people by giving them an apartment for 3 months, counseling, forcing them to save money, and when they leave they are ready.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Santa Fe on

My mom did not work for about 20 years and let her boyfriend support her. He retired but has not money saved (from his own business) so now she is living off of social security. Anyway, she talked to everyone she knew and applied to jobs and actually got a job with pretty much zero experience. She is now doing secretarial work for a company that puts cable into hotels. She is doing all their organizing of their files (something she is good at - she is OCD) and running errands for them in the building. She kind of enjoys it. Anyway, there is hope for your SIL but she has to want this...and she has to get out there and talk to people and apply to jobs. She has to not be picky and take any kind of job at first. I have to say, I am pretty sure you are going to be in a situation where you are supporting her. From what I hear it sounds like she will take advantage of you and stop paying on the rental property/her bills. This might turn into a headache for you.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

As others have said, don't do it. I've learned this the hard way. I made the mistake of renting my house to a family member and completely regretted it. I had a huge contract with her that covered everything but that still wasn't enough. They will take advantage of you. You can't help those who refuse to help themselves. She's 50 years old, don't you think it's about time she learns how to stand up on her own two feet? Her parents certainly did her a huge disservice. What a shame. I would tell you after thinking this whole thing over that you feel that this would not be a good option for either of you. She doesn't have a history of being able to hold down a job, so how can you expect her to get one and keep it? I understand wanting to help her but you will end up with the short end of the stick in this deal. Unless you can afford the cost of it all and don't mind enabling her, I wouldn't do it. I would strongly suggest to her that she needs to get into some counseling, get involved in school, or some other type of organization that will help her get established. Good luck and yes your heart is the right place but by enabling her, is not helping her.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Tulsa on

I would NOT let her move in for the same reasons our enabled nieces, SIL, aunt in laws, etc... are not moving into my rental house. They would NOT do the right thing. Afteral, you are family.

Tell her your tenants are not leaving because they are not today are they. Tell her she needs to come up with another plan and you can not have her move in with you ever. Make it clear you can not and will not support her. Give her the number of a social service agency or copy the page out of the phonebook for her.

The only way she will change is if she HAS to.

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answers from Columbus on

First, yes, I agree your heart is in the right place but for all the wrong reasons. Second, although ultimately you will be involved, I think it is your husband's place to deal with her directly. Having said all that, I think you're setting yourself up to take on a dependent. I don't think she'll ever be totally self-sufficient; sounds like she's had too much handed to her for too long and she's not going to change. She may not even want to really change if she knows she can continue in the same pattern.

As for getting her help, sounds like she definitley needs some!!! I don't know about other counties, but my county web-site has a link for this exact purpose! They offer training and help in getting a job, etc. That might be something to check into.

In the meantime, I would discuss this with your husband and HE needs to set her straight. There's obviously something wrong if one son has already gotten away from her and the other one will soon.

Good luck!!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Columbia on think a couple job site classifieds will help? Will monsterjob fix your SIL's 50 years of mooching experience?

Not a chance. She has to show a paystub to move in. She can live rent free (that's what family does), but she still has to qualify like another renter.

Give her 1-2 months to find a job. After that - I'd explain this is how you put food on the table for YOUR family, and you've bent over backwards to help. If she's just going to take food away from your kids' table, then she's got to go.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

My experience with folks like this is that unless they are MADE to "pick themselves up by the bootstraps" they won't.

Let her have a hard time for a while. Maybe it'll make her grateful for the rather generous offer. But by no means would I ever move her close to you without her having employment.

I also don't know what your husband thinks about this. You keep talking about you and the SIL having a conversation, does your husband have a "take" on the issue? You might find that he is more than willing to have her suck the life out of...I mean live with.. you.

I'm sending good thoughts your way.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

IF you allow her into your rental property--only do so if you are willing to eat/incur those bills. Not to be mean, but it sounds like a sure fire bet for YOU losing money....
As for "adoption money"? Not familiar with this. Support for foster children? Yes, I've heard of that. Never heard of anyone that adopts a child getting any type of financial support for the childhood years. Odd.
Again--generally speaking, better not to mix finances and family UNLESS it can be a "gift" situation where you fully expect to incur the costs/losses involved. Can you offer to let her live rent-free, bill free for O. year? What happens at the end of that year?
When will her husband be back home? Is he away working/earning?
Too many unanswered questions for any more specific advice, but, like I said before....if you expect to be paid while she lives in the rental--don't do it. Her track record speaks volumes. It's just unrealistic to think a geographical change is going to bring about THAT dramatic of a financial/responsibility change in her. I'm sorry. Can she apply for some sort of assistance/disability for a mental illness?

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

Someone said it would be preferable to have her sleep on your couch until she had a certain number of months' rent money accumulated -- Please don't! You will have great difficulty getting her out of your home if you allow her to stay there at all, from what you describe. She will find it so easy to be in someone else's house as a "guest" compared to being responsible for a house on her own. Whatever happens with the rental home, don't make your own home an option for her for more than a night or two, with her suitcase close by and packed, or you will have a bigger "pickle."

I'm concerned (for her but also for you and your husband) that she apparently has a formal diagnosis of depression but it's not clear if she is under any regular care. Maybe you know these answers already, but: Does she see a therapist or other doctor on a regular schedule? Does she maintain that schedule no matter what else goes on in her life? Is she on medications, and can she afford them, and does she actually TAKE them as prescribed? Does her therapist, if there is one, know that she wants to make this move? If she moves, she must have another therapist lined up to see her regularly in her new location. (A friend who has moved several times and who has mental health issues is always careful to find a new therapist immediately when coming to a new place, so she can stay on track mentally and emotionally -- has your SIL even thought of this, I wonder?). She should not move until she has talked this out with her therapist, or someone professional. You may be reluctant to ask her all this but your husband -- who, I agree with other posters, should be the main point of contact with her -- should tell her that with her depression diagnosis, she needs to get therapy and meds in order before making ANY move. Of course, she could simply lie to him and say that's all under control, she's taking her meds, she's got a regular therapist who's delighted with her plans, etc., but you have to at least ask. If she gets to this new city and falls apart mentally and emotionally because of the total lack of support -- or enabling -- your husband at least will have made the attempt to have her see that her mental health should come first.

You mention that she might need "a life coach, a social worker" etc. but it sounds like she needs a therapist, now. Then you might be able to put her in touch with a "job coach" or head-hunter firm or employment agency rather than a life coach, in the city where the jobs are. I bet her lack of work over decades is going to sink her chances of getting any job even in that job-rich city, but let a head-hunter or employment agency be the ones to tell her that -- BEFORE she makes the permanent move there. She should be doing serious job-hunting trips there and she should not stay in your property while doing those trips or you may find it to tough to get her out if she doesn't land a job.

I think you are right to tell her she must have a job before she moves into your property. Frankly I would not let her live in my property because I've seen nothing but rifts and hurt feelings come from families doing business (including rental business) together, but if you want to let her live there on the generous terms you have offered, that's great. Just stick to your guns about her having a job -- NOT just an offer or an interview but a real starting date and a written contract she lets you see -- before she moves in.

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answers from Minneapolis on

You are never going to get her out of your property if you let her in... and I hope you realize that you won't be getting any financial help from her either... right??

People don't change their stripes unless forced too.... you putting her in your property is just enabling her once again. She's 50 YO.... time for her to grow up.

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answers from Oklahoma City on

I would suggest you get the names of the local mental health agencies that are based on income. You may also consider she is just not mentally able to do more than she has accomplished in the past and her not being able to find work is due to that.

She may have grounds to apply for SSDI. I would make sure she has to do the job part first. Don't let her pull the wool over your eyes with it either. Once she gets there she still may not have solid income or lose the job quickly if she in fact did find one.

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answers from Phoenix on

NO, NO, NO, do not allow her to rent your property. You said yourself she hasn't held a job in 30 years and is irresponsible, mostly because everyone else has handed everything to her. This is not a good idea and will bite you in the butt. I would honestly just tell her that she needs to make an effort now to get her life together. She should be able to rent a room in someones home somewhere, even if she does just have a seasonal job. That is HER problem. You all need to step back and allow her to be responsible. Good luck.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Charlotte on

You've done enough, offering her a sweet deal. But don't go any further. She cannot leave where she is until she has the job, period. And tell her that you will have to auto-draft out of her bank account every month for the rent. Set the draft for right after she gets paid so that you get paid first.

Maybe this will never work out because she won't get a job in that city. But that's not your responsibility to work out for her. It is hers now.

Really, you can only do so much. She has to learn now. I'm sorry.


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answers from Detroit on

I think you've done all you can/should do. The ball is in her court and if she wants to change she's going to have to get a job in that city so she can move.


answers from Hartford on

I wouldn't have made the offer to let her rent the property until/unless she ALREADY had a stable job, personally. But what's done is done and while i wouldn't retract the offer now, I wouldn't bring it up again.

What you CAN do is put her in touch with a life coach or the Department of Women's Services, which is a state department. They can help her find a job with her (limited) skills and limitations. They can set her up with counseling if needed and a social worker. They can help her find housing and assistance that she qualifies for and is entitled to.

I'm wondering if it's more than just depression and what you clearly think is laziness on her part. I wonder if she's ever been evaluated for a mental or emotional disability.

I'm also wondering what your husband, her brother, has to say about the situation. I appreciate that you're taking her on as if she were your own sister and she's lucky that you care so much, but the only time you've mentioned her own blood family was to mention how she's related to you. What does your husband think about her situation?

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