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Ask Ellie: Niece refuses to work to fund education

We’re stunned by her lack of willingness to take responsibility for her own life

Dear Ellie: My husband and I are a gay couple without children. We’re self-employed, relatively well-off, but our income varies (largely dried up since COVID).

We decided three years ago to help a niece with her undergrad university costs, with $3,000 annually.

We’d have given half that amount if she’d chosen the hometown university, but when she elected to study elsewhere in Ontario, we doubled the amount.

First year, COVID kept her studying from home. Her second year, she commenced in-person studies.

Now, living at her parents’ home all summer, our niece chose to not get a summer job.

She’s earning nothing towards her education nor her upcoming living expenses.

We’re stunned by her lack of willingness to take responsibility for her own life. Our financial support now seems to replace any necessity for her to do so.

She lives in a mid-sized Ontario city with plenty of work opportunities. She could also work for her parents’ family business.

We’re currently on track to contribute $12,000 to her education. Are we entitled to comment on the situation and raise our concerns? Or to ask her (or her parents) why she’s not contributing to her own future? Or to reframe the conditions (or degree) of our support in the remaining two years?

Or, with a promised gift, is there no room for change?

We never dreamt of making our niece’s summer employment a condition of our support, but in the face of her not even trying to work, we’re wishing we had.

Frustrated Family

When you both made the thoughtful, generous decision to help support your niece’s education through funding her university tuition costs, you became her kind donors, not her legal guardians.

She has parents. They have a family business. You’re a couple within the extended family who care about your niece becoming capable of financial independence in her own life.

Currently, that’s not happening. She’s not even trying to work. Meanwhile, there are recent factors of uncertainty involved:

1) Your own joint income “has largely dried up since COVID.”

2) Your niece also experienced COVID and all the restrictions of online schooling and lack of socialization which have resulted in statistical reports of mental-health issues affecting teenagers/young adults throughout this pandemic.

She may need counselling help - to be discussed with her and her parents. And it may be available through her university’s student services.

If anxiety, for example, is causing her inertia, money alone won’t be the solution.

Tell your niece/her parents that you can’t afford “summer-break” funding, but will help again if she can find some summer employment to share the costs.

FEEDBACK Regarding the gentleman who lost his wife to cancer six months ago (June 17):

Reader – “My mother, 83, lost my father, her soulmate of 60 years, also due to cancer, in 2014.

“She was devastated. When we finally learned of his cancer, and everything that could be done was tried, he passed away at home.

“She’s never recovered from the loss.

“She’d like to talk with this gentleman about many things they have in common, to see if this could provide some relief for her and us adult children.”

Ellie - To protect letter-writers’ anonymity, I do not connect strangers.

But shared adjustment to deep loss may be reached if you accompany your mom to grief counselling sessions - e.g., at a faith-based group setting.

Sharing grief can be an important step to normalizing what’s otherwise a very lonely experience.

Dear Ellie: We’re mid 60’s empty-nesters, no mortgage and own rental properties. My husband likes the stock market, did okay, then recently lost his money and maxed out our line of credit. He now wants to mortgage one property for funds to try recovering some of his losses. My signature is needed.

I’m risk averse. The situation’s causing major issues in our relationship. How do I handle this?

Fearing More Losses

You both need directed, informed financial advice. But you’ll still argue over it unless you re-frame your relationship to allow mutual discussion, not just blaming sessions.

Currently, everything’s focused on the money as a single issue to address. Not so.

People of varied earning levels are also worried about financial losses, unemployment, rising costs, stock market weakness… etc.

Focus on being partners, together studying the predictions (and guesses) of professional money-watchers.

It’ll help you both come to a reasonable, acceptable guess, plus ways to respond quickly as things inevitably change.

Ellie’s tip of the day

Generosity is a gift of goodwill. Taking it for granted from others, is a foolish mistake.

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