Penny For Your Thoughts: Help for a Distant Relative

This post is part of our “Penny For Your Thoughts” column where readers can write into Penny about any questions related to money, finances, relationships, and more.

Pen and paperDear Penny,

My fiancee has found out that her biological father is very sick and in the hospital in another country. The hospital won’t treat him without payment, and he has no money or insurance. She wants me to give money to help him. This man did not raise her or have a relationship with her, and she was adopted and raised by her father’s sister. Her mother (the biological father’s sister) gives her biological father money each month, and her mom also frequently gets hit up for money by other relatives in the family. My fiance’s relatives (minus her mom) are all poor when it comes to money (ie bankruptcies, no insurance, often no money for rent/mortgage). This is the first time I have been asked to contribute and I have never met him. My fiancee is contributing $1,000 and her mom much more.

My gut tells me this is wrong because I would never ask a non-relative for money. My #1 fear is, “where does this end?” if I do give. My background is such that I am over-the-top thrifty. I live severely below my means (all the poor relatives in my fiancee’s family have better cars than me and go to the casino, while I drive a modest car, get my DVDs from the library, but make six figures).

I guess I am more concerned about the future versus giving some cash for his hospital bills now. Am I wrong? If no, how do I explain?


Dear Confused,

I would have the same questions if I were in your situation since I too would not ask this of others. It’s rather incredible how people in need of money will go to just about anyone asking for money, even those they are not close to. It’s very likely that once you give money, you will be asked time and time again to do so in the future, since the other members of the family are also apparently this man’s welfare program (and even worse, they don’t have a lot of money, meaning they might continually look to you).

In a situation where one person wants to give and the other doesn’t, a good compromise can be to determine an amount of money that you can spare to give, and agree that that is all you will give. But you have to stick together on this point and not be guilted into giving more at a later date, or the requests will keep coming. If your fiancee is upset about the fact that you’re not contributing a lot of money, you need to have a long talk explaining your perspective.

Also, if you decided to give money, I would consider giving it to your fiancee to be contributed in her name, but only if she can be absolutely trusted to not tell anyone where the extra money came from. A little bit of fiction can help keep you from feeling like the family cookie jar, with everyone’s hands in – however, your fiancee will have to deal with what her family thinks this says about your character since they will not know it’s from you. I’m willing to bet they won’t see it as being wisely frugal, but instead as “selfish.” But don’t let that bother you, and at least they won’t be calling you for money in the future. And going forward, if they don’t know how much money you make now, don’t ever tell them! The best outcome interpretation by her family is if they think you’re poor! I would also look into seeing if there is any way you can pay directly to the hospital, or otherwise directly pay bills without actually giving money to the dad, for some guarantee that it would be spent appropriately.

The reason I am suggesting that you don’t take credit for giving money is because if you take the “lead” this time, you will continue to be looked to as the leader in future situations when he needs help, and he and the rest of the family will never figure out another way to solve their problems without you.

If you and your fiancee can stick together and make decisions as a team through this, it will set a good precedent for issues in the future with your families if a similar situation ever arises. Also, even if you aren’t in agreement on what to do, you should not allow the family to see your divide, or it will just cause more friction.

Readers, a penny for your thoughts! Should Confused give or not give this money? What do you think the effect will be on the family if he doesn’t give? What are the most important priorities here?

Yours Truly,

Do you have a question about relationships and money? Write to Penny [at] moneycrashers [dot] com!

(photo credit: Kristian D.)

  • Kaz

    It’s probably good for your fiancee to know you won’t help someone out when they need you just cause of money.. If you wouldn’t help out an old sick man, I don’t think her family will think much of you.

  • maryan

    I think is rewarding to assist the needy, most especially a sick person. you do have the means and you can afford to help. if you dont want your identity known you can confidently contribute through your fiancee.
    Giving assistance is divine but if you have the means you can gladly do so without looking back. pls help them, you wont regret it.