How can relatives confront contentious money concerns without dynamiting family ties? Because personal finance is as much personal as it is finance, we asked experts from a range of disciplines—finance, law, psychology, and even preschool education—to address common family money scenarios. Here are a couple you may have encountered with an adult child. We’ve added our own practical advice. 

Failure to Launch

It’s time for your 24-year-old college grad to move out of your basement. But after landing a few short-term jobs, he hasn’t worked for months and seems in no rush to find gainful employment. And the fact that he’s grazing on your food, monopolizing the TV with video games, and trimming his beard in your powder-room sink is taxing your nerves and your spouse’s.

A psychotherapists’s take. Try not to let your frustration get the better of you, says Eileen Gallo, Ph.D., a psychotherapist based in Santa Monica, Calif., who focuses on financial concerns facing young adults. “Instead of telling your son he needs to get his s#!t together, focus on helping him explore what he wants to do,” Gallo suggests, adding that it’s best to use encouraging words that will foster his confidence. “You want to encourage autonomy, not paralysis,” she says. “It’s natural to struggle through the stage between adolescence and young adulthood. So use the words ‘normal’ and ‘natural’ to describe the difficulty he’s having. Tell him, ‘I want to help.’ ”

If your child is resistant to the conversation, “you have a bigger problem than just getting him to grow up,” Gallo says. In that case, you can suggest family or individual therapy. She also recommends that parents offer to foot the bill for vocational testing. If he’s willing to go to graduate school or pursue special training, help with tuition if you’re in a position to do so. After he’s independent, consider helping him pay for health insurance until he’s firmly on his financial feet.

A financial planner’s take. “If there’s a compelling medical issue that keeps him home, that’s one thing,” says Robert Karn, a certified financial planner, former tax attorney, and principal of Karn Couzens & Associates, wealth managers in Farmington, Conn. “But short of that, you’re not helping him by enabling him to shirk responsibilities.”

Karn suggests that you mince no words and that you propose a timeline outlining when your child should take the next step toward independence. “Lay out what you’re effectively paying for him to live there for free: rent, food, cable, phone, insurance. You can say: ‘You have 30 to 90 days. We’ll help you look for an apartment and write a résumé. If you don’t leave, you’re paying for your share of expenses.’ ” In Karn’s experience, young people ­approached this way generally come to their senses and leave.

“The challenge will be, are you emotionally willing to enforce your ultimatum?” Karn asks. For this ­approach to work, “both parents have to be on the same page.”

CR says: When your adult child is working toward a financial goal—say, paying off college loans or saving for an apartment deposit—allowing him to live at home can be a smart financial move.

But when he seems perpetually stuck in neutral, you might naturally worry whether he’ll ever get off the family dole. A vocational testing service such as Highlands, publisher of the Highlands Ability Battery, might help give your adult child direction. The National Career Development Association offers an online referral program to trained career counselors (search using the “Need Career Help?” box on the home page).

An interim step toward financial inde­pen­dence is to charge your child rent. Increasing the amount each month until it approaches market rates could help coax your child out the door sooner. You can either keep the rent or add it to a savings account on his behalf.



Blended-Family Fallout

You paid for your son’s college education, and now he’s asking for help financing law school. You want to help, but his stepmother, your wife—who paid her own way through grad school—is opposed. How can you come to an agreement?

A financial therapist’s take. “Explore with your wife her underlying values concerning funding education,” says Megan Ford, a financial therapist and coordinator of the ­ASPIRE Clinic, a counseling center at the University of Georgia in Athens. “Does she believe that paying your own way fosters self-reliance? Also talk about your own values. Could it be that you’ve planned to help your son all along, but your partner fears it may take away from your future together?”

Crunch the numbers together, Ford advises. As a compromise, perhaps you fund only the first year of school.

A blended-family educator’s take. Even if a prenup says the money is yours to spend, the decision has to be both of yours, says Ron Deal, director of FamilyLife Blended, a resource for stepfamilies, and author of “The Smart Stepfamily” (Bethany House, 2014). “When biological parents ­resort to unilateral decision-making, they undercut the bonding between their spouse and the child,” Deal notes. “It makes family harmony more difficult.”

Depending on the blended-family relationship, you might want to deliver the bad news alone, Deal ­advises. “Start the conversation with: ‘Because we love you and believe in your ability to get this done on your own, we’re choosing not to contribute. We want to support you, but not by writing a check.’ If he says, ‘You would help me if she wasn’t in the picture,’ you say, ‘I understand your disappointment, and I’m sorry. But my wife is part of the picture, and I’m in agreement with the decision. This isn’t on her, it’s on us.’ ”

CR says: Encourage your son to find federal loans. If you lend him money, outline the terms in writing. If the loan exceeds $14,000, it should include interest so that you can avoid the federal gift tax. Use the IRS’s current Applicable Federal Rate; find it through National Family Mortgage, which helps create intrafamily loans.