Establish financial boundaries with family members to avoid a fallout

Relatives taking advantage of one another's wealth is a form of financial abuse

Nima column illustration by Gary Clement

“We shared a bedroom. I never thought this could happen.”

The brothers had slept in the same room for years when they were children. Now in his 60’s, the older of the two feels betrayed. His sibling has not only taken advantage of him financially, he has also compromised his relationship with his wife and been badmouthing him as greedy and heartless.

I suppose it was inevitable that money would become an issue between them. They are so very different with their take on success and what makes for a good life. How they handle money is at the core of it all.

The older brother (big bro) is the dependable one. He is a company director, respected amongst his peers, and has always lived beneath his means.

His younger brother (little bro) is described as ‘a bit of an entrepreneur’. He drives a Ferrari, owns motorhomes that he rents out, and has various business interests. His lifestyle might look exciting and bling from the outside, but he is unable to raise a mortgage or be part of the standard financial system as a result of how he operates.

They all got on until their filial relationship included a financial one.

This is how it happened:

Big bro’s mother-in-law passed away. The house she lived in was inherited by her four children. Big bro’s wife bought out one sibling who wanted to cash-in. Big bro’s younger sibling stepped in to buy the other half of the house when the remaining two heirs wanted out.

Big bro stepped in and filled financial holes, replying to his wife’s requests for assurances, with things like ‘this is my brother, there’s nothing to worry about.”

It worked out well; the property was rented out, and takings more than covering outgoings.

But then little bro got married, and became a part of a five-member family overnight as his new wife had three school-age children. He decided his new family’s home should be the rental property that he co-owned with his sister-in-law.

Things went pear-shaped. What it boils down to is that there is no contract setting out terms of agreement, detailing the financial relationship that has evolved.

The younger brother sees it as a simple matter. His needs have changed. There is an instant solution to his circumstance, which is to move into the house he co-owns.

Doing this involves him breaking agreements regarding his financial commitment and relationship with his sister in law, and, by extension, his brother.


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Big bro cannot fix this by providing more cash. The situation is messy, and needs clarity.

Little bro sees any attempt to detail changes and come up with a future plan as an attempt to destroy his new family and his chance at happiness.

Relatives taking advantage is a form of financial abuse, and makes you wonder who you can trust. Those related to you by birth or by marriage? I’m sure there are stories in your circle that embody this particular sort of horror.

The sad truth is that, potentially, we can trust no one. So instead of living in fear of a misunderstanding at the very least, draw up legally binding agreements whenever finances are involved.

Easier said than done as there’s invariably emotional fallout, usually of the ‘don’t you trust me’ sort. But better to endure that than legal ramifications down the line.

Take the case of the wife who extended her pre-marriage life savings to her unemployed husband so he could take on a business venture. It vanished mysteriously, and he departed soon after. Every lawyer she’s been to see since the money disappeared told her she should have drawn up a legal contract.

To do away with long, protracted and painful fallout, establishing financial boundaries with family and friends is a must.

It’s one thing to help someone out of a pickle in a one-off event. It’s entirely different if you become their personal ATM. If you have someone like this in your life, it won’t be easy weaning them off your money. Prepare to be tested, repeatedly.

It could mean you end up getting rid of certain people in your financial life. Helping people is the right thing to do - and saying no to requests for money can be the best sort of help you can provide.

Nima Abu Wardeh is a broadcast journalist, columnist and blogger. Share her journey on