Pay Dirt

We Can’t Afford to Give Our Adopted Grandson the Same Gift His Cousins Got

We’re retired now.

Child with their grandparent.
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Dear Pay Dirt,

When my husband and I sold our vacation home we put half the money in a trust for our three grandchildren by our daughter. Our son had been divorced twice and never had any children of his own. Until he met “Kay” and her young son “Mike.”

Our son had a fast-track lifestyle until a heart attack hit him; Kay was a nurse at the hospital he recovered at. They got married and our son adopted Mike. Our family is very happy about it. The problem is that with college costs, there will be nothing left in the trust after my daughter’s youngest goes to school. Her oldest went to a private university more than a decade ago on a partial scholarship and what we paid for it would barely cover a public university today.


My husband and I have long since retired and can’t afford to make such a gift again. We have tried to explain this to our son, but he has turned it into an issue about Mike being adopted and being a different race than us. He brought up that my husband and I weren’t fully and immediately on board with his marriage. Our son married Kay six months after meeting her. We thought it was too fast, especially after such a traumatic event and we had concerns since a child was involved. It all worked out for the best. And we do love Mike as much as our other grandkids, but the situation is not the same. How do we get through to our son? My husband and I would be heartbroken if any of this filtered down to Mike and it hurt him.


—Broken Trust

Dear Broken Trust,

Having honest conversations about money and inheritance can be difficult. Without knowing the age difference between Mike and your daughter’s youngest child, if they are close in age, it could be worth assessing if there’s a possibility of splitting what is left in the trust to give each of them a portion of what’s available. However, if your daughter’s youngest child has already factored the specific trust amount into her college financing and has known about it for over 10 years, halving what she got compared to her siblings would also be unfair.

But you are not obligated to provide any grandchildren with free education, even if their cousins had that opportunity. It isn’t fair, but you can’t build a time machine back to over 10 years ago and anticipate Mike. You got a head start for your daughter’s children that you didn’t for Mike. At the time you set up the trust, you didn’t know there would be a fourth grandchild. If you had known, it would’ve been different.


Hopefully, your son has not yet told Mike about the trust. Set aside a specific time to talk with your son and Kay without Mike there, and approach the conversation calmly and respectfully. Look for solutions beyond the trust—help with FAFSA, searching out scholarship opportunities, living with family during school. You could say, “We love Mike just as much as our other grandkids, and we want him to feel welcomed and included in the family. Let’s find solutions to support Mike in affording higher education, even though we don’t have any funds left from our vacation home sale over a decade ago.”

It is also helpful to address your son’s concerns about Mike’s place in the family. Search out ways to celebrate him just as much as your other grandchildren.


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