The Moneyist: ‘We got into a big argument’: My stepbrother helped me start my multimillion-dollar tech career, but now wants my late father’s house. What do I owe him?
My father dated someone when I was in early grade school, and mentored one of her sons, who is about eight years younger than I am, becoming the father figure he never had. For simplicity, I’ll refer to him as a stepbrother.
He helped me with some key decisions after I graduated. One key piece of guidance: My stepbrother advised me to get into technology. I took the advice, and immersed myself into building a high-earning income. I struck out on my own, creating a business that has generated tens of millions of dollars.
In short, I took the advice and dove straight in surpassing the stepbrother — who is also in tech. As the company began to scale, my father got sick and needed 24/7 custodial care. I wanted my father to remain in his house peacefully, and did what was necessary to make that happen even at tremendous mental, physical, financial and emotional expense — the family caregivers out there will get that point.
Fast-forward seven years, and my stepbrother was going through a divorce, and out of an act of kindness I decided to open my father’s home for him to stay free of expenses — despite his being gainfully employed with a six-figure annual income and him owning rental properties generating $6,000 per month in passive income.
“ ‘My dad passed away from COVID-19, and things began to go downhill rapidly.’ ”
My dad passed away from COVID-19, and things began to go downhill rapidly. For example, on one or two occasions he’d say things like, “I think your dad wanted me to live here,” when my father never said anything like that. Nor did my dad make any provisions for him in his living trust.
One night we got into a big argument. I’d had enough of him continually taking credit for my accomplishments from advice he gave me 22 years ago. I’d had enough of this belief that I owed him something in perpetuity. I was generally upset because I still hadn’t been able to have quiet moments inside my dad’s own home to get closure with his passing, as my stepbrother was trying to plant a seed of his own entitlement to the home.
Here is the kicker: my stepbrother would always claim my father as his “real dad,” but he never participated in any of the eight long years of caregiving my dad needed before passing. He got really upset when I called him on that point, I guess mostly it was finally an accomplishment he couldn’t step in and take credit for. But in the end the relationship is now soured. Is my stepbrother entitled or deserving, or AITA?
My Father’s Son
With so many acronyms knocking about these days, I had to look up, “FATHER.” I see it’s related to a subreddit where people ask similar kinds of questions about their own moral responsibility. So to answer that question — “Am I the Asshole?” — no, you are not the asshole. Neither, probably, is your stepbrother. He gave you advice when you needed it, he did not show up for your father when he needed help because people do what people do.
“‘The only thing you need to do in life is show up.’”
However, he appeared to like the idea of having his slippers tucked under your father’s coffee table, and became accustomed to living there. Perhaps he fantasized about the house being his, and in some blurring of reality and wantonness, he thought he could make it happen — just like you manifested your company and success. Your father did not adopt him. You did not put him on the deed. Your relationship is/was primarily friendship, not kinship.
You manifested your success and your close relationship with your father through hard work. Your stepbrother gave you advice, and wanted to see his younger stepbrother/friend succeed, but he did not put the time and effort into the relationship with your father when he needed it the most. If your father had felt a familial bond he would have adopted him or, at the very least, have remembered him in his will, but he did not. You were there for your father. Not him.
Your stepbrother is not destitute. He has a healthy monthly income from his rental properties. He timed the market correctly, if only by knowing that investing in real estate is a long-term game. And yet it doesn’t surprise me that it’s passive income. He’s a guy who appears to like to get something for nothing. After all, if you deeded him your father’s home that would be another form of passive income via a somewhat opportunistic inheritance.
He gave you good advice when you graduated college. You put in the long hours and hard work required to turn your business into a multimillion-dollar enterprise. He did not give you a blueprint. You did it all by yourself. Your stepbrother cannot lay claim to any credit for that. Jobs in tech remain some of the most sought after — and, some say, “the best jobs in America” — but many are poorly paid, and require long, grueling hours in front of a computer. It could have gone either way.
The only thing you need to do in life is show up. You showed up for both yourself and for your father in his final years. More than one in five adults — some 53 million adult Americans — are unpaid family caregivers, according to a report from AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving published in 2020. By showing up, you joined these legions of often unsung Americans. Your stepbrother, however, showed up when he needed a place to live. Your debt is paid.
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