Ask Kari: Should I financially support my mother-in-law who can no longer pay her bills?

Dear Kari,

My mother-in-law is a kind, sweet woman but has a history of making poor financial choices and now can no longer pay her bills. She is divorced and has no savings. My wife would like us to help her out and if needed move her into our home. I am not happy that we have to pay for her expenses, but I definitely do not think we should move her into our home. Plus, she has other children to help her out besides my wife and I. What do you think we should do?

Good Son-In-Law

Dear Good Son-In-Law,

You sound like a good son-in-law who wants to establish expectations and maintain boundaries between your immediate family and your wife’s family of origin.  I agree that setting a boundary is a good way to make clear to everyone what you are willing to do and what you believe is the right role for you and your wife in supporting her mother. Given your mother-in-law’s predicament, you could agree to help cover some of her expenses and ask other family members to do the same. Remember though, that they have self-choice and may or may not agree to help her out financially regardless what you decide to do. If you want to make your wife happy, love your mother-in-law and are able to give her money each month without burdening your lifestyle, then do that. Offer to help care for her if this is your intuitive, initial response. Sometimes our friends and family don’t make great choices in life or plan for the future, but we show our love for them by helping them in times of need and remembering that they are more than their circumstances.


As published in the May 2014 issue of Connections.


About Kari:

Kari O’Neill, MSW, LICSW, is a licensed independent clinical social worker and a resident of Issaquah Highlands.

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