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My mother-in-law has a history of mental illness. Truth be told, it had a very large and negative impact on my husband throughout childhood and teenage years. She has a pattern: work becomes "overwhelming" and she stops going. She becomes paranoid about people coming into her house. She isolates herself and starts turning off services (phone, TV, etc.) to lower her bills. Eventually she is institutionalized against her will. All of these times, she has had a boyfriend to financially take care of things.

Fast forward to present day. My mother-in-law broke up with her boyfriend of 16 years because they had planned to move to another state and he actually wanted to follow through with it. He started building a house there in preparation for their retirement. At the last minute, she decided not to move and she broke up with him. A few months later, work became "too much" for her, so she stopped going and decided to retire. She believes she has a physical disability preventing her from working, but she spends her days gardening, crafting, and redecorating her house. She is only 62 years old, and she spent much of her life underemployed or working under-the-table, so she is only receiving $900/month in Social Security. Her mortgage alone is $1,500/month with $7,000/year in property taxes. My husband is sick over this situation and has many sleepless nights. A year has sinced passed, and we assumed she at least had some savings she was living off of, but we found out over the holidays that she only has $7,000 in the bank, no retirement money, and she is only getting $900/month income. We were shocked! She is literally in danger of losing her home within 3 months. My husband and his two brothers recently tried an intervention with her, telling her she needs to go back to work part-time, get a roommate, or sell her house and move into a subsidized Senior apartment. She absolutely refuses to do any of this. Her boyfriend is now with another woman, so no chance of him coming back.

My husband’s brothers believe it is their duty to ensure she doesn’t “lose” the house. Rather than confronting their mother’s mental illness and trying to get her help, they would rather split her bills 3 ways and pretend there is no problem. One of them just lost his job, and the other is fresh out of grad school, unemployed, and a stay-at-home dad living in a small apartment. We are all lower middle-class. My husband and I are currently living with my parents and attempting to save up to buy a house.

My feeling is that paying my mother-in-law’s bills allows her to keep living in a fantasy land. It isn’t a sustainable situation. Are we supposed to pay her bills for the rest of her life so she can live in a 3-bedroom house all by herself making crafts all day? I feel like this is taking away money from us that we could be putting into our own retirement accounts, money for our own (future) children and our own lives. I feel it is selfish. My husband is on board with me, but he is from an Italian family that will (in his words) think he’s a piece of trash if he doesn’t “help her out” which basically means support her.

I don’t know what to do or how to handle this situation. She refuses to seek mental help, thinks nothing is wrong, and says we’re all “ganging up” on her and she worked hard her whole life and now deserves to retire in her home. She is a very nice person, but this situation is making me despise her. She has little equity in her house, only $30,000 or so. She has taken out multiple mortgages over the years. My husband's two brothers live far away, so the brunt of tackling this situation is falling to us.

Advice?

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First, the math doesn't work - with her SS and $1200 from the sons, she'll just cover the mortgage and property taxes. This leaves no money for anything else - utilities, food, etc., - nevermind the costs of maintenance and repairs. Starting to pay her bills will begin a slippery slope.

Second, while we may thing we deserve a certain way of life, we are not entitled to have this as the expense of others.

Third, I get where you're coming from on the Italian family thing. I'm not generalizing, just coming from my own experience with this. The mindset in my family is that the kids are expected to care for Ma in whatever manner Ma needs, and they are quite vocal about what OTHER people should do to achieve this. That doesn't mean that they will provide any help, just a lot of criticism and direction. Sons are expected to pay the bills, daughters to provide the hands on everything else. You aren't going to change the way the uncles think or the brothers' caving in to FOG. Your husband will have to state over and over that it's not possible for him to subsidize his mom's life.

I really feel for you two and the pressure you're under - we've been dealing with the family for 3 decades right now and still hearing "yeah, but..." And I agree with Pam, that since you're not blood, you have no standing. In my family, the "not blood" person gets the rap if the spouse says no. But that's much better than putting your own family in a financially precarious position. Good luck and hugs to you.
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advice for your husband "i do not have the money to send $XX per month" and get him to counseling. It sounds like he will have a bad time being the bad guy (in his eyes) when the siblings and uncles rally around. If the uncles are so concerned - can THEY pony up? They are probably more established than your husband and siblings. But to not do this. It will be year after year AND the amounts needed will increase. Been there, done that, and learned the hard way NOT to enable bad decisions by others. And needed counseling to be able to say "NO"
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UPDATE:
Hi everyone. I promised to update, so here I am. The situation hasn't changed. My MIL is still in the same situation she was in before; refuses to sell her house, but is growing more desperate. Her ex-boyfriend started sending her money to meet her bills because she was calling him nonstop, but he recently stopped when things went sour between them. They are no longer speaking, and he is no longer sending money. She has enough for 4 more months of bills.

Of course, now my husband's brothers are getting more involved (from out-of-state) at the last minute. One has secured a retail job and the other has seasonal work, so they have a little bit of income. They keep repeating, "We can't let her lose the house!" but my husband and I disagree. Unless one of us wants to buy the house, paying the mortgage makes no sense. The house has no equity, and my MIL can't afford it on her own. The brothers are now suggesting that we all pay $400/month to float her until we can sell it. However, MIL refuses to sell the house. I can't help but feel that if we start paying, there will be no end in sight.

My husband is considering going to therapy over this situation because we've been so stressed about it. We barely have enough money to save up ourselves. He is torn by guilt in saying No he won't pay, and consumed with anger and regret if he does end up paying.

Any advice I can pass on to him on how to handle this?
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Kathleen, I'm with the other posters, DO NOT contribute to this disaster! As you have stated, it will not end well. But in fairness, no matter what you do now, it will not end well. One thought, personally, I feel that her sons should be clear with her. Put her financial situation in writing, large type income and expenditures. Figure out how long that $5000 nest egg will last and show her the timeline of when she will be out of resources. Ask her how she plans to live at that point. AND each son should be clear that he is unable to help financially or by having her move in. Present alternatives at that point. Subsidized housing (get the applications, complete them and have them ready for her to sign). Take in two boarders, one for each room. Have the ad ready to place. (Even this step won't take her very far.)
I've been a caregiver to 3 relatives one passed at 101, another at 98 and the 3rd is 100. If your MIL reaches those ages, how can the sons pay out all of those sums for 38 years?? What a mess, chin up- As long as you and your husband are in sync, you will be able to tough it out.
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You absolutely have a say in this. It is your money too and it is also your future. First, your MIL needs to determine which of her sons will be her financial and medical POA. Whichever one of them becomes her POA has no authority to spend your money or make any demands of you. Her POA will be in charge of her money and, once the house is sold, there will be a lot of it. Her POA will put her on a budget and, if she blows through all that money, her POA will file her paperwork for Medicaid and whatever else she's entitled to from having worked in the State of Connecticut. This has nothing to do with being Italian, half Italian, or anything like that. That is a bunch of "Old World" hogwash used to manipulate people.
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UPDATE: I was asked to give an update on my MIL's situation with her house. It is now a month later and very little progress has been made. My husband has been able to get his mom to take some baby steps in arranging her finances, but I mean BABY STEPS. He cancelled her expensive cable TV, got her a Netflix account, and lowered her internet bill by $30/month. He also got her a better deal in Car/House insurance, nearly 50% cheaper per month. That's it, though. That's the only progress, and it was an epic battle to get even that done. She would become overwhelmed and frustrated "with all of the changes" and try to distract him from completing whatever it was they were doing. My husband decided to step back from pushing and nagging his mom because it was starting to ruin their relationship. His mother was agitated and angry and felt like he was attacking her. She became very upset every time he suggested that she should sell her house and downsize. We talked, and I told him that I think his relationship with his mother is more important than saving her house and he should stop pushing her so hard. She is now apparently spending her days watching Netflix and not really doing anything regarding her situation. Her first Social Security check of $900 comes next month. Her savings is down to less than $5,000. It's not going to end well. I will keep everyone posted.
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If you were to "help" financially, you would be enabling her to live in her fantasyland just like if she were using drugs to get there. Something is wrong and she won't change until she hits rock bottom. Since she's been institutionalized before, that's probably where she's going to go at some point. At that time, you can seek guardianship by **the state** so no one can blame you for any thing. The state will make sure she is taken care of properly, maybe not the way she likes. And family can go visit and honestly say, I can't do anything to fix this, sorry. Let her fail on her own .
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Thanks, everyone. We're slowly helping her sell things and trying to convince her to downsize. It's an uphill battle. She refuses to sell her house at the moment. Hopefully with time, she'll understand that no magic fix is coming.
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Stand your ground! Better for husband to be thought a jerk by some relatives than to be divorced and broke!

I feel sorry for people who have mental illnesses. I really do. My heart goes out to MIL. She did not ask for or engineer this disease. It is very unfortunate no one has stepped in and forced the issue of diagnosis and treatment. She shouldn't have been raising children with this untreated disease! If the brothers got together and confronted her instead of enabling her that MIGHT be worth the effort.

In spite of feeling sorry for her, I don't see how it would be an improvement to pull her sons into her misery.

My mother lived on $800 a month SS. She lived in a comfortable subsidized senior apartment, she bought her clothes at thrift stores. She went with her sister to Bingo nights for entertainment. She was content. It really is possible if one is careful. Your MIL has options other than relying on her boys. Your husband's role should be to help her discover the options and help her implement them. Help her sell her furniture? Yes! Help her apply for senior housing? Yes! Help her move? Absolutely! Pay for her to stay in an untenable situation? No, no. no!

Stand your ground, dear. This is very sad. But it is Not Your Fault.
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Kathleen, stand your ground. If necessary, the state will become her guardian.
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Yeah I know all about uncles. When Nana became widowed in 1968, her three children had to pool in and send Nana a "pension" each month. They convinced Nana that Pa had a pension so she never questioned how she got it. Even the daughter who was widowed with three kids had to contribute.
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I have the full support of my husband. He's only half Italian and just feels guilty about the entire situation. We can't afford to support her, and his unemployed brothers are making him feel like a jerk for not considering a split of her financial support. He also fears his 100% Italian uncles will think he's awful. But he has told me that if it means his brothers no longer speak to him, so be it. They aren't close anyway. If he WAS on board with supporting her for the rest of her life due to her making bad choices, it'd be a deal breaker for me, as in I'd leave him. We are not rich people and we can barely afford to support ourselves. Saving money for a house has been an epic undertaking that is taking us a long time. I'll be damned if he's going to spend our savings on floating his mentally unwell mother while she lives in a house she doesn't need. Living with her isn't an option because my husband refuses due to the bad memories her mental illness brings up for him. He wouldn't be mentally well himself if he had to deal with her paranoia full time. just going over for a dinner visit stresses him out to no end. 
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Kathleen, I married the first-born son of a pure Italian mother. You cannot win this battle. You are "not my blood" and therefore have no say.
Now if someone suggests you move in with her, you have full rights to put your foot down and say NO. Or if they want her to move in with you, say NO. Other than that, stay out of it because you cannot win. Been there.
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Oh, okay, so she's getting regular SS money. Yes, her funds, savings, etc. may disqualify her from certain benefits, but, I would consult with a professional to find out how it appears. She's going to eventually be in a place where the savings are gone. Then, she may qualify. 

Check the property tax tip though. I'm not sure if that has asset requirements.  It depends on your jurisdiction.

Perhaps, you can appeal to her sense of just going after benefits to get her cooperation on the medical/mental evaluations. She could have more going on with her than her normal mental illness. Sometimes, people develop cognitive decline, on top of the underlying condition, so, I'd try to clear that up. Plus, you could say that she needs to document her physical ailments, get blood tests, urine tests, etc.  so she can get the benefits that she's entitled to.  

I wish you luck.
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She took an early retirement at 62. That's the $900/month she will be getting starting in March. I've also suggested that she go onto Medicaid. We have strong Medicaid in CT that she will qualify for based on her low Social Security income. She isn't disabled. At least, not yet. We can't convince her to see a mental health professional to get that going. She insists that she's physically disabled (she isn't).

THANK YOU for the property tax tip. We will look into it.
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Does your husband understand that there are programs for people who are disabled and and have limited income and assets? I think I read that your MIL gets SSI. I'm not sure how that happens if she has money in the bank over $2000.00, but, maybe, there's something that I am not aware of, but, I'd consult with an attorney on Medicaid law. They can help explain how it works. Its is complicated, but, if she is disabled, she should qualify, for certain services including, Medicaid Medical, Special housing or long term care in a facility, reduced power bill, free phone, and other things.

REF. THE TAX bill for her property. In some jurisdictions, if the homeowner is disabled, they may qualify for a reduction or complete exemption of property taxes. There is a form for the doctor to complete and file with the Tax assessor's office. I'd explore if her jurisdiction has that option. In NC, it's done through the county, but, it's under a state law.
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I forgot to mention that she did have retirement money (not a heck of a lot, but some) but she withdrew it all early (paying penalties!) and that's what she's been living off of the past year. But now it's all but gone.
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Thank you, cwillie. You basically summed up what I've been feeling. His brothers don't really have the money to pay her bills, so it probably WOULD fall to us. One brother is unmarried, and the other is being supported by his wife who doesn't make a heck of a lot, either. The unmarried brother lost his job recently, but he's pretty good about quickly picking up another. He was a retail store manager, though. Making, what? $15/hr if he's lucky. My husband has a physical job, he's a metalworker, so he works HARD for his money, and I have a ton of student debt that I'm trying to pay down and doing public service loan forgiveness. There just isn't the money!
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I'm reading that the three brothers think they should split her bills 3 ways, but one lost his job and the other is an unemployed stay at home dad, so I assume they all expect your husband to carry the whole load (but only temporarily, they would help out if only they could!)
If you choose to support her I have a feeling you would be on the hook for the rest of her life, which could easily be 25 or more years. Better to let the chips fall where they may... a good son should be expected to look into affordable housing and help her move, not sacrifice his own plans and future to support a lifestyle she can not afford.
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Thank you so much very for the advice, everyone. This has been keeping us awake at night with worry!
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She isn't a hoarder. On the contrary, she's a neat freak and takes a lot of pride in her house.
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We live in Connecticut. The property taxes out here are VERY VERY high. Her house is tiny and in an overdeveloped area. I don't foresee much growth as an investment.
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Have you ever heard of a condition called Anosognosia? It's the inability of someone to realize or accept that they have an illness or disorder. It's quite common with people who have psychiatric disorders. So, if that is what she has, there is no amount of convincing that will bring her around, cause her to listen to you, etc. She is okay in her mind and unless someone is appointed by the court, to handle her affairs, it's not likely to change. Of course, a medical and mental exam might confirm just what is going on with her.

I'm not sure how much influence you have with your husband, but, I'd try to get him on board as to exploring if she has this condition. Maybe, then, he can come to terms with a long range plan. If he wants to split the cost of the mortgage, he should see an attorney or accountant, because, unless they own the house by deed, then, all that money they are spending is not going to prevent her from selling it without their permission or knowledge or getting their share of the house, if she dies. She could have a Will that leaves the house to someone else. Unless, she's incompetent, she could leave the house to anyone she pleases. There are just so many ways their investment in the house could go south and they'd lose every dime. Plus, with multiple mortgages, he would likely get little to nothing, even if she left him as a beneficiary. Maybe, husband just needs to sit down with a calculator, look at the numbers and get the straight news from a professional.

Depending on just how ill and unable your MIL is, your husband may explore the idea of petitioning the court to be appointed her Guardian. I'd seek legal advice to see what evidence is required. See an experienced litigation attorney who handles Competency cases. Also, ask just what is involved. If appointed Guardian over her fiances and healthcare, he could then sell property and handle her affairs. It sounds like it's a huge job though, based on your description of your MIL. Managing a resistant person who is self destructive would be extremely challenging, imo.

I hope you find some answers. Please post as to how things go.
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7k a year for property taxes sounds very high for a three bedroom house. Are you sure of that number? Is she receiving other public assistance that you may not know about? All that aside, you are right you need to be saving for your own house, and your own retirement. Italian? Who cares. The brothers probably all feel the same way and maybe will not say so. Time for MIL to take care of her own business, sell her house, find subsidized housing. Her son's have been bailing her out an enabling her to continue self destructive behaviors. They need to make it clear to mom they will not do it. Too bad the boyfriend was in the picture for so long. It will be hard for her to accept she is not going to be taken care of by anyone any longer.

By any chance is she a hoarder?
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So sorry, I had a typo in my post. She is now 62, and her first SS check comes in March. We suggested that she open an Etsy account, but like I said, she is paranoid, and she wants nothing to do with the internet. She also balked at the idea of selling her crafts because I think it seemed too much like a real job to her. She is unable to deal with anything that is too "real world" if that makes sense. She filled out disability paperwork for being tired and having backaches, but I told her there is no way they will approve her for disability based on that. I have a friend who lost her leg and fought for 7 long years to get disability. It isn't an easy thing to get, but she doesn't understand that. We have tried to convince her to see a mental health professional, at least that way she might be able to get disability for mental illness. But she refuses. She has a very negative view of mental illness and assumes it will lead to people "injecting her" and "taking her away."

My husband and I don't have any interest in the house. To be honest, he has a lot of negative memories there and not a lot of sentimentality about saving his childhood home. I don't see paying the mortgage as getting anything back in the future. I think financial entanglements with family can only bring problems. Future issues I foresee are who put in what, who gets what, what to do with the house, when to sell it, does mom go into IL, etc. As I said, my husband and I don't even have a house of our own. My mother is handicapped, so we care for her while saving up for our own house because it has become too much for my 73 year old dad . That's a whole other ball of wax that will need to be tackled when we do finally move out.
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First question -- how is she receiving SS at her age? Is she considered disabled since work had gotten overwhelming for her? Usually people have to wait until 62 to qualify for SS and don't get full SS unless they wait until 66 to retire. If she was able to get disability something must really be wrong. It can be very hard to get. I don't know if she would be able to work. It sounds like she has severe anxiety and paranoia from some of the things you wrote.

It would be nice if she could turn her crafting into a small business to earn some extra money. It would also be nice if she would downsize into something she can afford. I know you can make her do things, though. You can just make suggestions.

Supporting her is a heavy burden for the kids and they will have to make decisions. I thought the money might come back to them when your MIL died, but one can never trust an inheritance. A person can get mad at people and leave everything to a TV preacher if they wanted to. Maybe they can find a way to protect their investment if they do decide to help.

I think what would be best is to meet as a family and decide what each of you can and cannot do, then stick to the plan so it doesn't consume your lives. Good luck!
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