Dear Family Advisor

My brother is charging stuff on Dad's credit card.

Last updated:

November 17, 2010

My brother watches my dad two days a week, when I work part-time. I just noticed he's been charging things on Dad's credit card, like a new iPod and parts for his computer. This isn't stuff for Dad.

I really need my brother to sit with dad, but I don't want him taking advantage like this.

Put a stop to this now. Don't hem and haw; be clear: "You can't charge personal items on Dad's card. He can't afford it, and neither can I." Even if your brother says he didn't do it or that he'll pay him back by the end of the month, simply tell him this isn't part of the caregiving deal, that you don't do it, and it's taking advantage of your father. If you don't handle this quickly, your dad (or you) could wind up with a whopping debt.

Guys tend to react better to confrontations when we just come out and say it. Men, more than women, don't seem to get as offended or stay mad for long. So draw a sharp line "“- but also see if you can observe what's going on beneath the surface.

Why does he do it? Some family members have a sense of entitlement, even when they didn't earn it. Your brother may consider the charged goodies to be a perk for Dad-sitting. Or he may have full good intentions of paying it back. (As we all know, though, debt tends to grow astronomically.) Maybe he's just bored "“- is caregiving a good fit for him? Or maybe he doesn't have enough of his own money and his time would be better spent at paid work.

Also, I hate to ask, but does your brother have a gambling problem or drug addiction? They're temptations at any age that can lead even good people to try to get money in creative ways.

Caregiving can bring us back in close contact with our siblings and other family members. It provides an opportunity to see aspects of one another's lives we haven't been exposed to as adults. What we see isn't always pretty. But there's always a chance to grow and change.

Call the credit card company and put a limit on your dad's card, if you can. Make it a low limit, maybe a couple of hundred dollars. This prevents your brother from talking your dad into purchasing items for him.

I'd also keep a good eye on your dad's other accounts and legal documents. Don't let your family ties keep you from facing potentially uncomfortable facts. It's better to ask, to check it out, and to know what you're dealing with up front.

I hope you and your brother can continue to care for your dad together after you've made the rules clear. Seeing you two share the load must make your father happy.