Dear Thelma: I'm worried about my adult son's financial future and relationships

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Dear Thelma,

I am 75, and my son is 50 and unmarried. After my husband and daughter passed away, we are each other's only family, though we are also close to my grandchildren. My son and I generally get on well, and he takes the time to take me for my medical check-ups, grocery shopping and meals.

I am worried about him because his business has suffered during the pandemic, and he doesn't seem to have plans to do something else. He has not been earning much but he also doesn't have much commitment. When he runs into financial difficulties, he will seek help from me. I have contributed quite a bit to him – from giving him his start-up capital to tiding him over when he was robbed to covering a gambling debt.

As his mother, I want to help him find a career path as he only finished his secondary schooling. He is an easygoing sociable guy and is not a big spender except for occasional lapses. Things are easier for him because I can help him out financially and I prefer that he seeks my help than go to a moneylender.

Some of my relatives think that I have spoilt him but how do not help your son out. As he is single and has no children to support, I also do not think he has to work too hard and be too stressed out. He will always have a roof over his head and we have some savings to leave to him.

But this pandemic has also impacted his business, so I am worried for him a bit more now. He seems aimless though not particularly troubled. But there is only so much I can say to my 50-year-old son because it can also descend to a fight and accusations of me looking down on him.

I don't know what he will do and how he will fare in the future. He is not lazy or irresponsible but he has not been able to manage his career or money well or commit to a long-term relationship. I don't even know if I should be worried.

Concerned Mother

Dear Concerned Mother,

I'm so sorry about the loss of your husband and daughter. My condolences to you.

To summarise the issue, you are worried about your son as you think he may not be living his best life.

From your letter, you are very close, and you don't tell him what to do, but you are concerned that there are two particular issues he may need to reconsider: money and marriage.

Money matters; there's no living without it. At 50, your son should know his strengths and weaknesses, and whether he should be running his own business or whether he's better off as an employee. A career tweak may also be needed.

Unfortunately, that is something he needs to delve in. You can't baby him and decide for him. Also, frankly, at his age his options may be limited.

However, if he is prone to gambling, losing money on scam "investments" and other issues, then that may be a serious problem. As you have not let his issues interfere with your finances, that suggests you are very sensible. Please do continue to remain sensible!

If he doesn't want to discuss his business or finances with you, that's his right. But if you are concerned that he may run into trouble with his inheritance, then I suggest you talk to a lawyer and explore how you may structure your will to prevent this.

Among the most common tools are trusts. These are legal setups where you appoint a person or institution to administer your estate for the benefit of your son.

A trust can ensure he gets a regular trickle of money instead of a massive lump sum, and it may also prevent him from being able to sell or pledge the house.

Many people use trusts because it can be beneficial for tax purposes too. So aside from talking to a lawyer, maybe have a chat with a financial consultant who specialises in inheritance as well.

Overall though, I'd comfort myself by the fact that he has a home so the bulk of the burden of managing his life has already been lifted from him. At worst, he rents out a room and that will give him income.

Should you have helped him out over the years with cash? I don't know. Sometimes, helping out is the kind thing to do because people make mistakes. At other times, helping people out prevents them from being realistic about their career prowess and making sensible changes.

As you are 75, I don't think it's worth agonising over. You did what you thought was best, and you did it out of love. But if his money troubles are a repeated issue, I would be careful and talk to that lawyer.

Finally, you are concerned about his lack of marriage or long-term relationships. While these can provide companionship and other boons, that's only if it's a good match. To be stuck with a poor match is awful. So better to live alone than to live with miserable company.

When it comes to your son, I see a lot of comfort in your letter. Let me explain why.

Your son puts aside his own schedule in order to take you shopping, to care for your health, and for fun like meals. That shows he's kind, caring and generous. Also, he is close with your grandchildren.

These are excellent qualities. He sounds like a nice man, who loves and who is loved. He is quite connected with the rest of the family, and you mention explicitly that he's sociable, so he has plenty of company.

By all means, talk over how important connections are. As you are of an age yourself where you need help, this will be a very natural conversation to have.

I suggest you talk it over sensibly, with love, and share how much you appreciate his help first, and then ask if he has thought about his retirement – which is still some years off, but worth planning. See where it takes you.

But in the final analysis, he's a nice person, with solid family and social connections, and you're leaving him a home. You're a loving mum and you've given him a wonderful foundation. Be at peace with that.

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