Help for an irresponsible adult sibling who I'm responsible for

I'm seeking advice and sources of help for an odd situation. I am trustee for an adult sibling's inheritance.  We use a special credit card (called Truelink credit card - and I would highly recommend it for anyone who wants to provide money to someone you must monitor or protect). This allows me to ultimately be in charge but for them to use as they wish so that they can feel independent.

My main job is to make sure that this money lasts their life expectancy. Based on that and their expenses we came up with a budget. The budget also shows how much they can spend on non-essential "wants."

The problem is that they are over-spending by a significant amount (10x to 20x as much). I can at any time just limit how much they spend by placing limits in this credit card but this is a sore issue with them and they see themselves as independent even tho they have never been that and have a long history of over spending which my parents always bailed them out. This is not new behavior at all.

I've tried various ways to encourage them to understand their spending limits, that at this rate the money will be gone in a few years and not last their life-time but it doesn't make a difference, they just keep at it buying useless stuff (and a hoarder too).

Before I just place limits, I wondered if there are any programs, groups or ideas of how to get a middle-aged person to take some responsibility in their lives?

Or for them to understand that spending huge amounts (several thousand) each month on non-essentials is NOT okay? They see any limit as unfair, as a hardship, and I can't get them to understand that FEW people can spend that kind of money on non-essentials. They actually feel sorry for themselves when limited as if everyone else can spend that kind of money and not them.  

Spending isn't the only problem, just overall failure to manage their lives with tons of excuses as to why that is but as a sibling, I don't want to play the role of the parent as frankly I've dealt with these issues of theirs enough in my life but as trustee, I'll know I'll just have to clamp down in the next month.

Any ideas at all would be appreciated - how they may be able to finally see their behavior, or recognize that following a budget isn't a hardship and everyone has to, or how they can become more responsible. Because spending is just one issue, they won't take responsiblility of much of their life making me feel like their personal assistant to make sure they have things like car insurance etc.

They basically function as a cranky 13-year old. Honestly I really hate it all and am beginning to resent them as I have my own family to take care of.

And they do see a psychologist who basically does what everyone has done, believes this sibling's sob story and why everything is everyone else's fault but their own. No one has ever held this sibling accountable and I see now that I too am falling into that trap but I just don't want to be my sibling's parent. I'd like an outside source too to support me.

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I really understand what you are going through and I sympathize. I'm in a similar situation except my sibling is retirement age and there is no trust fund. My husband and I are his safety net. He lives very cheaply, but in an expensive area that he refuses to leave, so his food and shelter are more costly. He thinks of himself as an entrepreneur.  He is easily tricked by scammers and cannot be dissuaded that the nice young man from Nigeria does sincerely want to start a business venture with him, and the pretty lady on the internet really does want to marry him!  Any money he's ever managed to accumulate over the years has vanished into crazy schemes, and he's barely worked enough in his lifetime to be covered under social security. But thank god he does barely qualify, and thank god for food stamps and California Medi-Cal!  I spent years trying to reason with my brother until I finally realized that he will always be the way he has always been. So now my job as his sister is to make sure he has food and shelter and medical care. But I don't engage with him beyond that - otherwise I get pulled into Crazyland and it's a no-win for everybody.

My advice:  Your parents designated you as the trustee for a reason. Your sibling is very fortunate to have a lifetime income and someone to manage it for them who cares about them. You are never going to be able to convince your sibling to be more sensible with money, so just give up on that. Your sibling is an adult so you also can't dictate how they spend their money. But you can and you should limit how much they get each month. That's your job as trustee.  Tell your sibling what the monthly limit is, and then repeat like a broken record. "I'm so sorry, but that's all there is."  Don't make any suggestions and don't give any advice unless they ask. They might moan and groan and call you names, but eventually they will get the idea. Just like toddlers do. And teenagers.

All the best and feel free to message me if you want some peer support! 

It sounds to me like you should resign as trustee. The trust should have some procedures laid out for what happens next. Maybe you can build a new relationship with your sibling if you're not holding the purse strings, or maybe you are ready to cut all ties. Bottom line, your parents are gone and you don't need to let them dictate this role to you anymore.

I really feel for you - this is a very rough situation.  I have two ideas.  The first is to seek a family therapist who could work with the two of you together.  In my experience, many therapists spend a lot of time validating their clients' feelings to build trust in the therapeutic relationship and not much time challenging their clients to change their self-destructive thought patterns.  A family therapist's role is to be a mediator and to help resolve conflicts between family members, so this might be a much better fit if your sibling is open to it.  My second idea is to find a professional fiduciary to manage the trust and resign as the trustee.  That way you don't have to be the bad guy.  Good luck.

This is really hard. I agree with the author that you probably can't change your sibling and if you do plan to continue in this capacity, keep your emotional distance, take care of yourself, and just do the job of trustee. You may want to consult with a lawyer to confirm this, but it's probably unlikely that you could get them conserved, which would really limit the damage they can do to themselves as far as their finances. Otherwise, perhaps they can be declared legally incompetent such that you could have more control over the financial decisions. (Of course this will further strain the relationship, but that seems out of your control anyhow.) My guess is you'd be worried that if you do just give them a limit, they won't end up spending the $$ on necessities and that would be hard to watch. I'm not a mental health expert, but I can't imagine your sibling doesn't have a mental health issue so these bad choices are probably not really even in their control. (I have known people like this.) Hopefully responses here are validating your experience - you're not alone! (And indeed, it's frustrating when other professionals, like the therapist, fail at their role.) 

Set the limits ASAP on the card and in the meantime you can look for services. When they run out of money you might feel obligated to help them financially. Better to be tough now than deal with the aftermath later. 

My heart goes out to you.

We are setting up our estate plan for our two adult children.  In 40 years, their situation could resemble yours,

Families with a functioning sibling and a dysfunctional sibling have an awful choice with awful tradeoffs:  Does the functional sibling bear the responsibility of monitoring the other,, or do you hire a fiduciary to handle it?

There is no easy answer, but you are presumably free to choose.

If a licensed professional fiduciary is an individual, they generally charge about 1% of the value of the estate per year. If it is a corporation, 2% per year. There are tradeoffs with which type one selects.

Here is the link to the state agency that regulates professional fiduciaries:

In your situation, it is clear that you are bearing a burden that comes with few, if any, rewards.  Don't beat yourself up if you can't do a perfect job at it.

Reading about your experience helps inform what we will do about our own estate planning.


I don't have any answers for you, but I am in a very similar situation. It is beyond frustrating and exhausting. I feel as though I have tried everything and have even threatened to resign as trustee, but this didn't work since it's too expensive to hire someone for this role.

I wish I had some good advice. I will be following this post closely to see if there are any suggestions. 

Feel free to message me if you need support!

Has your sibling agreed that the budget makes sense?  Is your sibling simply irresponsible -- that is, not impaired in some way that makes being responsible too challenging?  Is this situation causing you enough stress that it's affecting your emotional or physical health and your interactions with your spouse and kids?

I came from a difficult family, and eventually realized that I have to keep my relationship with them tightly bounded. Fortunately they are self-supporting, so I can.  You are stuck with money and survival getting mixed up with family emotions and loyalty, which sounds awful.

My first thought is that you should find someone onto whom you can offload the problem.  This could be a relative, or better a neutral fiduciary who can enforce limits without emotional entanglement.

Alternatively, you might try a natural-consequences, tough-love approach by doling the money out in very small increments.  I believe TrueLink is a debit card, so one can't spend more than is loaded on the card.  This which means you can arrange for your sibling to have a day-by-day experience of running out of money.  For example, you could load the card with one month's worth of budgeted money, and after that add one day's worth of money every day.  Your sibling will likely blow through the money and run out, and then have nothing to spend.  This will mean a lot of unpleasant situations where the card gets turned down for lack of funds.  A hard lesson but it might work.

Let your sibling know before you start this, but try to frame it as something you're doing for convenience and efficiency.  No doubt there will be hell to pay while the lesson plays out, so get yourself a therapist or some other support before you start.

If your sibling really cannot manage, then maybe you can arrange for vital expenses like rent and insurance to go through automatic bill-pay.  Again, you can frame this as being for your convenience.  Remaining budgeted money can go on the card incrementally.  When your sibling demands more money, say, "I'm sorry, but that's just not in the budget," and say it over and over again, no other argument or statement is needed. 

Your sibling likely will see you as cold, heartless, and controlling.  Your parents obviously didn't trust your sibling with money, and they put you in position as parent.  You will be better off engaging with your sibling as little as possible over money, which may curtail your relationship in general.  Remember that your primary emotional responsibility is to the family you made, not your family of origin.

It's entirely possible that your sibling is simply incapable of responsibly setting limits and sticking to them. It sounds like they generally haven't figured out how to function in the real world. If they're past their 20s, and if they haven't figured it out yet they probably never will. Your life will be much easier by accepting that, and giving up any emotional investment in trying to make it happen. Either accept that your role is to be bad cop and set limits, or go with the suggestion below to relinquish the role of trustee to someone else. It's a crappy situation to be in. You can make it less crappy by accepting the crappy possible actions you can take, and not hoping for an action (getting them to see the error of their ways) that isn't going to happen. 

I get the problem, completely! My adult child has several challenges, special needs...AND he doesn't mind his money.  If your sibling is seeing a therapist, did you know you can send that professional a personal letter, letting him/her know your view of things. It doesn't matter that you don't have legal rights to consult with the would be a letter of concern and an offering of your point of view. -- You can even explain it as such.-- Then we have to let it go & maybe both of them will end up on the streets. An awful thought which haunts me from time to time. I love my son but because I have another son and an unwell son, setting up boundaries--not walls-- are important.    (In my case, the therapist was very appreciative.)  All the best

Put the monthly limit in place. There's really nothing else you can do. You're not going to get your sibling to change their behavior otherwise. A class or group won't help because the sibling currently does not perceive a problem with their behavior. I'm assuming that you are the financial trustee and are not the legal guardian of your sibling. So if your job is simply to ensure the money lasts, you've done all you can do. Limit the monthly amount available, and just reiterate the limit and remind them of the budget. Otherwise try not to engage with all the complaining and other problems. If your sibling ever asks for help with budgeting or asks for help with how to become more responsible, then you could seek other ways to help. I'm sorry you're dealing with this.

Ugh, I'm so sorry.  My mom is in the same boat with my aunt, who has been unable to work for most of her life due to mental health issues.  There is a small trust but in practice my parents have had to give her a lot of extra money to avoid her becoming homeless.  They have set up a reverse mortgage on her house -- not sure if that is an option here.  My aunt also gets SSDI funds.  And they've encouraged her to see a social worker focused on the elderly but she has resisted.  It's unpleasant and an ongoing source of stress.  And sadly, with my own mom having a terminal diagnosis, it looks like this sister will likely outlive all three of her (wonderful) siblings.

Hi there, so sorry you are dealing with that situation.  It sounds exhausting and sad.  I totally agree with the advice from "GO" that you should give up on trying to help your sibling see reason.  The only thing you can do, and what you must do, is to put in place a monthly spending limit.  You have to set a boundary and stick with it - easier said than done.  I would recommend trying to find a good therapist for yourself, to help support you as you hold firm on the boundary, and to help of cope with the pain of the situation.  Best wishes to you.  

I agree with the first response that you should remain as trustee. Don't resign as trustee. Your parents knew you had the ability to fill that role. You are fortunate that assets exist to take care of your sibling for life, otherwise you might have been stuck with supporting them down the road. I am not familiar with the Truelink credit card, but I wonder if transferring the agreed-upon, budgeted amount of money each month into sibling's account would be easier for you? Maybe that way they will start to understand that is all the money they will have to spend each month. If you are responsible for paying some of their bills from the trust account, then set up auto pay. I sympathize with your situation. I'm beginning to realize that people with serious spending problems are not likely to change. It's like an addiction that is difficult to overcome. I have a relative in her 30s now who has always been a compulsive shopper. In the past dozen or so years, she has maxed out and burned through credit cards, avoids paying rent at times because it's more fun to use any income to buy designer clothes, shoes, handbags and go out to fancy bars and restaurants, doesn't buy insurance for or register her car, doesn't file tax returns, doesn't have any savings... the list goes on. She lies and always has an excuse, and her parents believe her and continually bail her out. Like your sibling, she has never had to be accountable. She has destroyed family relationships with her reckless behavior. You are very fortunate that there is income for your sibling. Does sibling have a partner/significant other who could take some of the pressure off you of dealing with day-to-day chores of life? It sounds like that's the hard part for you, for sure. Maybe think about consulting a therapist for yourself. Sibling is acting like a toddler. Stand firm with your budget, and try to not get drawn in to their drama. Best of luck.

I wish I had an answer for you - I'm no lawyer, but it seems to me you might be able to resign your position and assign it to someone else who is outside of the family? Could you pay a lawyer to do the same for a minimal amount of money? That way there's no blame on you and their accountability is monitored by a 3rd party. Wishing you the best!

I have a friend who works as a professional fiduciary, and from what she has told me about her work she provides the kinds of supervision it sounds like you want out of. I'm not recommending her specifically (I haven't used her services) but here's a website for Professional Fiduciaries Bureau ( They can handle things like bill paying and the like. This might be an option for you instead of putting yourself in the role of bad guy.

If you can't outsource, my sense is that education and resources aren't going to change your sibling's money behavior so there's no point in delaying instituting a spending limit.

Oh, how I can relate! We should start a support group. My sibling is almost 60 and acts like he’s 18. My parents did not set up a trust. Great that your parents did that. I highly recommend that you set the monthly limit to what you think is appropriate for their “pocket money” plus set aside a bit extra annually for special things. All basic necessities should be on autopay, but you should send him the invoices every month (and if you can stand it, have a coffee and sit with him for 15 mins a month and very simply go over the autopay expenses, so he can see that the trust is actually giving him a lot of money to have a roof over his. You cannot change his behavior unless he wants to. My sibling kind of wants to and still isn’t able to. There is a lot of mental illness here. I say that not to excuse the behavior, but to acknowledge that it’s difficult to change. If you are like me and do want to honor your parents’ wishes and assure your sibling isn’t homeless, then you also need to do it in a way that is sustainable AND is emotionally healthy for you. I’m striving and struggling for the same. Good luck!

I think you should resign as trustee and appoint a professional. This could either be a “professional fiduciary” (an individual) or a corporate trustee (like a bank or trust company). They have policies and systems and are used to saying no and following the terms of the document. Corporate trustees are great options in situations like this - you don’t want this kind of stress following you for the rest of your life and it sounds like your sibling needs firm boundaries that you’re (understandably) having a hard time maintaining. 

Switch to cash or debit card. Make it a weekly allowance. If they want to spend on non-essentials, they can but they need to save it up from the weekly allowance.

Only problem is if they find a way to open a credit card and abuse the system. Then you have to pay off credit card on top of the cash they spent.

This sounds like a very difficult position for both you and your sibling to be in. You can’t force your sibling to take a course and learn the skills they should have as an adult. The picture you’ve painted shows they don’t want to/cannot learn to be responsible. Like you said, you have your own family to take care of. I think you should remove yourself as trustee. Best of luck, this sounds very hard.


Sorry that you're in this stressful situation. I agree with the other writer, that you should give him a monthly allotment, basically autopilot, and that he has be budget it or come up with ways to supplement it. Stand strong. It's not a fight or negotiation, it just is. Also, I hope he can talk to a straight up financial coach. I used to watch Gail Vox Oxlade "Princess", she'll give you some gumption.

Good luck

Reading these thoughtful responses, it occurred to me that a daily limit might be more functional than a monthly limit on the Truelink card. A person that does not have the capacity, working memory, or executive function to manage their money may need to actually run out per day to feel that limit and alter their behavior. I realize a daily limit seems more controlling and may stress your relationship further but it's just a thought. I wonder if it would actually result in LESS friction than having the sibling run out of money half way through the month and not be able to provide their own basic needs. I also like the idea of alerting the therapist to the money situation so that the therapist can understand what's at stake and can keep your sibling on task.