The situation

You have a new client and learn he has a 32-year-old son who still lives at home.

The couple has two other adult children who work full-time and are independent, but their eldest refuses to work. Your client provides a monthly allowance and pays his bills, including auto insurance.

Since your client is approaching retirement, you’re worried this arrangement will jeopardize his finances.

Don’t belittle your client’s parenting skills. Instead, ask questions to help you better understand the situation. Start the conversation with, “Tell me about your son.” This opens the door for your client to describe who he is and his current situation. You may learn there’s a blended family dynamic, and it’s the wife’s son from a previous marriage. If that’s the case, suggest meeting with both the husband and current wife, to understand how this situation affects their retirement and estate plans.

Read: Help disinherit the black sheep

Once your client has the full financial picture, he may decide to set up a monthly allowance for his son. Keep the lines of communication open. After the parents have chatted with the son, offer to meet him. The son may be open to your recommendations.

What should you say?


How would you describe the best financial scenario for your son?


Will your son ever find a job?


What would doing the best for your son look like?


Is it time for some tough love?


What resources could I offer your son that would be helpful?


When will you wash your hands of the situation?

Listen for clues indicating the son has physical or mental challenges that would hinder him from working. For instance, the client may say his son has always had difficulty holding down a job. You can dig deeper by gently asking, “Why is that?”


If you learn the son has a disability and the parents are caregivers, they can claim a tax credit. To do so, they’d need to meet certain criteria, such as the son is over 18, had a net income of less than $19,435 in 2013, and depends on his parents due to a physical or mental impairment.

Once you understand the situation, ask, “What does supporting your son financially look like in the short and long term?” This will give you an idea about the additional income the client will need. If the support is long-term due to a disability, for instance, review the estate plan and see which products, like insurance or a trust, will ensure the son receives ongoing care after he dies. If it’s short-term but costly, your client may decide the son’s already received his inheritance in the form of support, and want to remove him as a beneficiary. Suggest a meeting with the family lawyer to review the documents.

5 Dos and Don’ts

  1. Don’t tell your client what you would do if it were your son, unless your client asks specifically for advice.
  2. Don’t criticize how he parents his children, or make him feel guilty about the situation.
  3. Do show empathy and tell him the situation is a challenge.
  4. Do encourage your client to keep you posted on any changes, both financially and personally.
  5. Do run the numbers. If he’s simply enabling a lazy son, and it means he’ll be broke before he’s 70, consider dropping him as a client.

Rosemary Smyth is a Victoria-based coach with Rosemary Smyth & Associates and author of 101 Success Tips and Strategies for Financial Advisors.