My Sister-in-Law Spent All Her Parents’ Money When She Took Them In. Now She Wants More!

My husband’s elderly parents moved in with my sister-in-law. Their house was sold, and my sister-in-law used the proceeds to add a bedroom and upgrade a bathroom for them at her house. (There was an extra bedroom in the house, but no bathroom on that floor.) My husband asked my sister-in-law not to make these improvements; he suggested hiring aides to come to the house, instead. But she went ahead and spent all the money. Now, my father-in-law has been diagnosed with dementia and needs lots of additional care. We are being made to feel that we have to pitch in financially. How would you approach this dilemma?


I happen to have plenty of experience helping an older parent who is unable to stay in her home. The loss of independence can be difficult for everyone. So, my impulse here is to focus on the people — not the architectural upgrades.

For starters, I see your sister-in-law’s invitation to her parents as a loving one. Taking in older relatives requires a substantial amount of work. If you or anyone else offered to do so, you don’t mention it. And unless your husband’s proposal was for round-the-clock help — which costs a fortune — asking older people (who feel the need to move in with relatives) to climb stairs unassisted every time they need the bathroom is probably unsafe.

Now, it’s hard to believe that adding a single bedroom and upgrading a bathroom ate up all the proceeds of your in-laws’ home sale. But that’s beside the point now. Even if your father-in-law were to move to a memory-care facility, your mother-in-law would still need a place to live — which she has, thanks to your sister-in-law. So, help or don’t help with the new expenses. That’s your call. But don’t base your decision on complaints about your sister-in-law’s home improvements. Her behavior seems sound enough to me.

Our daughter is turning 5. We’ve rented a covered pavilion at a public park for her birthday party. The guest list of children alone is pushing 50, and you can safely double that number if you include their adult companions. I feel strongly that we should invite every child in her class, so no one feels left out. My partner agrees, but he wants to limit food to light refreshment for budgetary reasons, and he insists we include a “no presents” request on the invitation. I’m torn: I don’t want guests to be hungry, and I find that “no presents” invitations make some people uncomfortable and come off as snooty. (“We don’t need your gift.”) Advice?


Is it possible that you haven’t been to many children’s parties yet? As much as I applaud your desire to be inclusive, placing a 5-year-old at the center of 100 guests seems ill advised. Your daughter may be overwhelmed. There’s good reason for the rule of thumb about limiting the number of party guests to a young child’s age plus one or two. Still, you know the birthday girl best.

As for food, “light refreshment” seems fine, especially if the party lasts for a sensible two hours. (Any longer than that is inviting meltdowns!) And I agree that some guests may feel uncomfortable with a “no gift” request. That’s their problem. It’s not snooty in the least, and hardly an argument for hauling 50 presents home. If there’s still time here, think smaller.

I visit a close friend in another state twice a year. She is an herbal tea drinker and doesn’t keep coffee or coffee-making supplies in her house. But I am chemically dependent on my morning coffee. (Without it, I develop headaches and feel groggy.) Normally, I would slip out to buy a coffee, but my friend lives in the suburbs and the nearest coffee place is quite a distance away. Would it be OK to ask her gently to stock coffee for my visit? I don’t want to be rude, and she’s mindful of her fixed income.


Making guests feel comfortable is certainly an important part of hosting. But keep in mind the full roster of your host’s duties: providing meals, laundering sheets and towels, and cleaning the guest bathroom. I’d skip the special requests if I were you. There are good brands of instant coffee on the market these days. (Just add boiling water!) Pack some in your overnight bag and solve your (extremely relatable) caffeine problem on your own.

When I got married a few years ago, my cousin attended the wedding but didn’t give us a gift. Now it is she who is getting married — at an exotic location, no less. I intend to go, but I’m not sure what to do about a gift: get over it or match the nonexistent present I received.


Which image of yourself do you like better: holding a grudge for years against a cousin who celebrated your wedding with you but didn’t give a gift, or behaving generously toward her? If you’re not sure how to answer the question, skip the wedding. Her joyful day is not for you. And if you choose the grudge: I understand your feelings, but your choice is making you small. Be bigger when you can.

For help with your awkward situation, send a question to [email protected], to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.