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Miss Conduct

Advice: We rent to my dad, and it’s killing our finances

My siblings don’t get involved. Can I ask them to help out?

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My husband and I own a two-family house, and my father has lived in the first-floor apartment for 16 years. We have always charged him much less than market value. We have also taken the allowed deductions for a two-family, but our new accountant says we should not. My father is 82 and probably cannot afford a rent increase, so we are no longer taking the deductions. Finances have always been tight with our three kids, but now it is really hurting us. I don’t want my father to know, he would feel awful. Should I tell my three siblings what is going on? They have never asked about the finances.

Anonymous / Boston

Yes, it’s beyond time for you to bring your three siblings in. Let them know that the housing solution that has worked for this long no longer does, and that all of you need to discuss how to handle it. Along with that, you’ll be opening some much-needed lines of communication for all the other decisions that will eventually need to be made with and about your father.

Do your homework before the conversation. You and your husband need to be able to paint a clear picture and know what kind of financial assistance you’re asking for. A vague “we could really use some help” is not going to get you anywhere.

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Start talking money with your father, as well. If you’re not fully informed of the state of his finances, you should be. The coming years will be much, much easier if you can handle accounts in his name. As far as how much you should be telling him — I can’t say. But interrogate that instinct to protect him. If you were in his position — and of his temperament and values — would you really prefer not to know?

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I can only throw out this ceremonial first pitch, though. You need a coach to get you through the long innings ahead. Your family clearly doesn’t have a tradition of talking openly about money, and that needs to change. Get whatever kind of professional help you need — lawyer, elder affairs specialist, therapist — to help you frame the conversations.

Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.