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The Moneyist: My son lives with his father and stepmom. She has access to his bank account — and has a history of embezzlement. How can I get him out of there?

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Dear Quentin,

My son is 27 years old. He’s very smart. He scored 32 on his ACT test without cracking the book. However, he can’t manage life. He blew up the motor on his car because he didn’t change the oil. He didn’t fix the sunroof so water leaked into the car. He doesn’t like his bank yet he can’t manage to change banks. When his health insurance ran out under our plan, he didn’t sign up with his employer.

He has been living with his father and stepmother for the last few years in a house that they own. He pays half of the bills in the house, despite six adults living there. His stepmom has access to his bank account. She transfers money, and pays bills with his account. His stepmom was caught embezzling from a local club a couple years ago. Obviously, I am very concerned. 

My son lost access to his bank account. He can’t manage to get his account log-in reset. Furthermore, he doesn’t even have a room at his dad’s house, he sleeps on his couch. I have advised him that the amount at most should be divided by the number of adults in the household equally (even if the others don’t work) and he should only pay that portion.

My son agrees that he is likely being taken advantage of. But he has taken no action. He is resistant to me helping. I have offered to be a payee or power of attorney. But he says he can handle it on his own. I even suggested a six-month trial with me or someone else helping him out. I still have a little money left over from what I saved for him to attend college.

Could I offer it to him as an incentive to take the steps to financial independence? I am at a loss on how to help him. I am worried about his stepmom cleaning his account out. Should I talk to his dad? Any other suggestions?

Standing on the Sidelines

Dear Standing,

Tell his father that your son needs help, and this living situation is untenable. But from what you say your father and his wife, and their crowded household appears to be part of the problem. Don’t rely on him for help, and don’t delay your plans to help your son because of his father. 

Throwing money at the problem will only indirectly reward him for being a procrastinator. However, negative feedback has only served to compound his anxiety, or whatever underlying condition or mood disorder he may suffer from that has made him unable to take action.

Anxiety-related procrastination is a cycle that gets worse over time. It’s not related to laziness or being a bad person or being incapable of doing ordinary tasks, it’s a kind of paralysis that builds up. The more things you haven’t done, the more stuck in the mud you become.

Tell your son that he is smart, and there is a way out. Tell him he is kind and compassionate, and will do anything for other people, but he needs to have boundaries because not everyone will meet him halfway. Some people will take advantage of his good nature.

Instead of giving him money, pay for therapy for him, and bookend the therapy by driving him there and/or meeting him for coffee and meeting him for lunch or dinner afterwards. That will help ensure he attends, but will also give the sense that he is secure and being supported.

The two top priorities are his living situation and bank account. Your son would not be the first person to become overwhelmed with the seemingly endless cycle of being told you have the wrong username or password. Only his cell number should be connected to that account.

A financial therapist is another good option here: they deal with managing and budgeting your finances, and also managing and controlling your anxieties. Anxiety can manifest as inaction, but also fear and anger. The Financial Therapy Association will have more leads.

If it is not possible to live with you at your home until he gets back on his feet, you can also do some research to show him the kind of apartments that are available that he could afford, and the kind of job it would take to get there. He needs a plan. It won’t all happen overnight.

People only need one good parent, and one good friend. Go with him to the bank, the auto dealership, and apartment rental. Drive him to his job interview, if you are able to. Fear and anxiety are crippling, but it will only get worse if he is left alone. Living in an emotionally and financially unstable environment will not help.

Without knowing your son, I’m cautious about involving a financial power of attorney. It would need to be someone you trust completely, and at this point in your son’s life, the goal should be moving him gradually towards financial independence, and giving him the tools and support to do that.

Learn how to shake up your financial routine at the Best New Ideas in Money Festival on Sept. 21 and Sept. 22 in New York. Join Carrie Schwab, president of the Charles Schwab Foundation.

Check out the Moneyist private Facebook group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

The Moneyist regrets he cannot reply to questions individually.

By emailing your questions, you agree to having them published anonymously on MarketWatch. By submitting your story to Dow Jones & Co., the publisher of MarketWatch, you understand and agree that we may use your story, or versions of it, in all media and platforms, including via third parties.

Also read:

‘I call his kids spoiled. He gets mad’: My partner and I each have two children. He gives his kids gifts worth $1,000. I say we should cut that to $100. Who’s right?

‘My eyes rolled so far back in my head it gave me a headache’: I carpool with two co-workers. One refuses to take turns. With gas prices so high, is that fair?

‘I came into the marriage with a lot more money’: Is it ethical to give cash from my pre-marital investment accounts to my kids — without telling my second wife?

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