Brother is Badgering Our 87-Year-Old Father

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Reader’s Question

I have a brother who is two years older: I am 56 and he is 58. He is single and has never had children. As a young teen and up to a few years ago, he was a rampant alcoholic. Now, he isn’t drinking, but his personality is very difficult to deal with. He is demanding and will not ever take ‘no’ for an answer. He is very argumentative and maneuvers every conversation so that he can continue to make attempts at getting his way.

The last two years, since our father’s girlfriend died, my brother has been even more demanding of our 87-year-old father, badgering him until he gets his way. He has talked my father into signing over property and giving him large sums of money, which my father told me he does not want to do, but he can’t get my brother to back off. Today, he was demanding that my 29-year-old son allow him access to the house that he is renting from our father, in order to store furniture there. My father refused to give my brother the key to that house and asked him to leave my son alone. I am setting the best boundaries I can and am supporting my son in doing so also. I am most concerned about my father and the harassment he is getting from my brother.

Things seem to be getting a lot worse very quickly.

Psychologist’s Reply

First, I am truly very sorry for your family that you have to suffer this indignity. We can’t know for sure what is driving your brother to behave this way, but we don’t need to know. He is not the one writing the question. He is not the one looking for help. We only need to be clear about his behavior, how he is affecting you, and how to keep it contained so the harm doesn’t spread. Perhaps your continuing to set boundaries will help your brother in the long run. Apparently, he has never learned boundaries for himself.

As far as managing your father’s estate, I encourage him to consult with his attorney or estate planner to protect his assets in a way that he sees fit. It could be that the money he has already given your brother could be deducted from his inheritance. It could be that the estate is safeguarded in such a way that your father’s wishes can’t easily be compromised. It’s not uncommon for people to right into their wills, if not their living trusts, that any bickering about the disposition of funds by a beneficiary would result in that beneficiary being written out of the will or trust. There are many ways to go about protecting your father from badgering and his estate from being raided. I am not an attorney, but I encourage your father to consult with his. Also, I encourage you not to be involved in that consultation, lest you later be accused of unduly influencing his decisions.

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I am very sorry that your father is experiencing this now. If it is any help to him, try to encourage him not to cave to the badgering by framing it this way: for your brother, badgering is like playing a slot machine in a casino. With a slot machine, you keep putting in nickels and never know when it will pay off. All it takes is one jackpot to get hooked. Then, you’re willing to keep paying and paying to play.

When your brother badgers your dad, he is looking for that jackpot. If your father pays off once, just once, then the badgering paid off and your brother is encouraged to do it again. To stop the addictive badgering/gambling, your father needs two things: your support, and boundaries of steel. He can’t give in even once to badgering. If he wants to make a gift freely, then go for it. But he can’t succumb to bad behavior any more than he could buy an alcoholic a drink, spoil an already-spoiled child, or enable a gambling addict. Try sharing this perspective with him and see if he finds it encouraging.

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