My biological mom died when I was a toddler, and the state felt that my grandmother wasn’t appropriate as a placement given that they found she had mental-health issues at that time. I was adopted by an upper-class family, and all communication with my biological grandma was prohibited after the adoption.
Fast forward to when I turned 18 and we reconnected. She was still working as a temp secretary with a low income. She immediately began hinting that she needed money, and threatening a lawsuit if I got hurt on a vacation we took together. My grandma stayed at my house rent-free, and refused to pay her share of the utilities. While she stayed with me, she could not stop talking and walking around in circles with her purse under her arm. She handed me a $20 bill every week or two for “room and board.” I told her that if she stayed with us, she would have to bring her own bed, because she could not take my son’s room. She made a beeline for that room and kicked him out.
“‘She has alluded to suing if I don’t support her or buy her this condo or house.’”
She ate and drank, and contributed nothing to the grocery bill. She told me that since my family’s probate was finishing up and I would be the sole heir, I am required to buy her a condo, as she can’t keep living in a motel because “I am the only blood relative you have.” She said I need to support her in her old age. A lawyer told me that when I was adopted, the law no longer recognized her as my family. But she has alluded to suing if I don’t support her or buy her this condo or house, or at least pay her rent for an apartment. She gets $1,200 a month in Social Security, and we have no clue why she never has enough money. We finally got her out of the house after we told her we did not have enough steaks for dinner that night — the dog got into a pack — and she would have to get her own supper. She snuck into my house and took her stuff and, we think, some of mine. Please help me know if I am really responsible for supporting her. I do not live in a filial-law state. Victim of Freeloading GrandmaDear Victim, “G” is for grandma. “G” is also for grifter. Unfortunately, you got a two-for-one deal. Your lawyer is correct. You are under no obligation to pay this woman’s bills, buy her a condominium or even return her calls. All legal rights have been severed between you and your biological family. Even if she were your grandmother in a legal sense, you would not be obliged to financially support her. Rather than regarding you as an open-hearted, loving grandchild who could enrich her life, she merely sees you as a financial opportunity. If she wants to get rich quick, she should buy a lottery ticket or go to Las Vegas, though I obviously don’t recommend either as a viable solution to anyone’s financial problems. More than two dozen U.S. states have so-called filial responsibility laws, which can be traced back to colonial times and (in theory) impose a duty on adult children to support their impoverished parents. Here’s a list of the states that do have those laws, even if they don’t practice them.
“‘All legal rights have been severed between you and your biological family.’”
One of those states is Pennsylvania, which did use filial responsibility to force an adult child to pay his mother’s bill. In 2012, a Pennsylvania court ruled that an adult son must pay his mother’s $93,000 nursing-home bill, but that happened after she moved to Greece, leaving the unpaid nursing-home debt behind. In your case, you have no responsibility to pay for this woman. You can, of course, offer to help her navigate an application for Medicaid should she need long-term care in the future. You can also show compassion for any mental-health concerns she may still have, and help connect her with resources or services. But I suspect that it will be nearly impossible to have her in your life with healthy boundaries and/or on your terms. The state appears to have made a good decision by not putting you in her care when you were a young child. Given what you have told me, your grandmother only sees dollar signs, and she may have other issues that require the help of a medical professional, but you are not qualified or charged with the responsibility to provide that care. I suggest you close the door and change the locks, both figuratively and literally. Follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter. You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at email@example.com. Check out the Moneyist private Facebook group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns. The Moneyist regrets he cannot reply to questions individually. More from Quentin Fottrell: ‘We can practically finish each other’s sentences’: I’m getting married in 2023. I want a prenup. She wants to merge our finances. What’s my next move? ‘I want to meet someone rich. Is that so wrong?’ I’m 46, earn $210,000, and own a $700,000 home. I’m tired of dating ‘losers.’ ‘I want to thrive’: I’m 29, work part-time, and left a 15-year abusive relationship. How do I get back on my feet financially?