A few years ago, we loaned our son money to start a business, which did not flourish. Yep, we know now it was a bad idea. But now, we owe $54k on our equity line, which he is only paying interest on. Question: should we pay it down with savings and deduct from his inheritance? His young family with two young toddlers needs every dollar they make

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    My rule of thumb: Loans to friends/family should be considered a gift, that if they pay it back is a bonus. In many situations loaning money forces you to eventually chose between your money and your relationship, which is a lose-lose proposition.
    – JohnFx
    Mar 2 '15 at 22:02
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    If you loaned him money to start a business, you're not just a lender, you're an investor. Like the saying goes "If you borrow $5,000 from a bank and don't pay it back, you have a problem. If you borrow $5,000,000 from a bank and don't pay it back, the bank has a problem."
    – corsiKa
    Mar 2 '15 at 23:37
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    I strongly recommend that you and your son both read The Richest Man in Babylon, particularly the Gold Lender and Camel Trader chapters. (amazon.com/The-Richest-Babylon-George-Clason/dp/…) This doesn't answer the question (which is why I left it as a comment), but it will prevent you and your son from getting into issues like this in the future and may also help you both get out of your current predicament. Mar 3 '15 at 16:44
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    @corsiKa: That depends. If I get a bank loan to start a company, it's a loan, not an investment. Did the father expect to get ten times his money back if the business really went off?
    – gnasher729
    Mar 3 '15 at 18:30
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    @gnasher the point is that the bank has a lot of money. They can loan the small amount and not worry about their financial solvency if the business tanks. So they run the numbers mostly with a credit score. Sure they also look at business plans and market research, but usually the deciding factor is existing credit and collateral. If the bank is going to loan an amount that makes them seriously concerned if they get it back, they usually take a much more active role (putting an adviser on the board is common among investment firms.)
    – corsiKa
    Mar 3 '15 at 20:15

I think you've made a perfectly valid suggestion, and, if your son is struggling somewhat financially now, one that may be very welcome. If you agree to forgive the debt at this time in lieu of a similar amount forgone in future inheritance, it will eliminate the never ending interest-only payments, free up $200+ a month for you son on a tight budget, and improve your own credit score once you pay off the credit line.

It's also, in my opinion, a good idea to be open about this in advance with your other children heirs so that everyone will understand what is expected during the eventual probate.

My paternal grandfather was the recipient of a great deal of financial largess from his wealthy mother during her life, and it was fully understood by him, her, and his siblings, that in exchange he would not share in her estate when she passed. He didn't, there were no problems, and he and his siblings stayed close for the rest of their lives.

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    Mandatory disclaimer: talk to a lawyer! If you don't, there might be unexpected complications about this in the future!
    – o0'.
    Mar 3 '15 at 8:46
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    Yes, very important, if you don't have a will, the state has one for you. Even with a will, a probate court decides where your money goes. Bypassing probate is easily done with directives on life insurance, annuity contracts, and investment accounts, but not so easily done with real estate and other property. You definitely need to see a competent estate attorney.
    – Aaron Hall
    Mar 3 '15 at 15:07

I started a business a few years ago. At one point it wasn't going so well and my father "loaned" me an amount not too dissimilar to what you've done.

From a personal perspective, the moment I took that loan there was a strain the relationship. Especially when I was sometimes late on the interest payments... Unfortunately thoughts like "he doesn't need this right now, but if I don't pay the car loan then that is taken away" came up a few times and paying the interest fell to the bottom of the monthly bill payment stack.

At some point my wife and I finally took a hard look at my finances and goals. We got rid of things that simply weren't necessary (car payment, cable tv, etc) and focused on the things we needed to. Doing the same with the business helped out as well, as it helped focus me to to turn things around. Things are now going great.

That said, two of my siblings ran into their own financial trouble that our parents helped them on. When this happened my father called us together and basically forgave everyone's debt by an equal amount which covered everything plus wrote a check to the one that was doing fine. This "cleared the air" with regards to future inheritance, questions about how much one sibling was being helped vs another, etc. Honestly, it made family gatherings more enjoyable as all that underlying tension was now gone.

I've since helped one of my children. Although I went about it an entirely different way. Rather than loan them money, I gave it to them. We also had a few discussions on how I think they ought to manage their finances and a set of goals to work towards which we co-developed. Bearing in mind that they are an individual and sometimes you can lead a horse... Given the current state of things I consider it money well "spent".

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    Great example of a balanced approach to addressing family financial issues, and lessons learned along the way. Kindness can be expressed in different ways, sometimes as forgiveness and sometimes, as its absence, like when parents ground their child for breaking the curfew. It may seem harsh at the moment but pays dividends over time, the child having learned to keep his word and not violate parental trust. Money is like water: as soon as it accumulates, it begins searching for cracks through which to escape. Our desires, like gravity, tug and pull unfailingly, tempered only by self-discipline.
    – A.S
    Mar 3 '15 at 22:56

As per JohnFx's comment above, consider whether it's worth more to you to just write this off. If not, if you feel that your son will be able to consider this without taking it personally, or you're willing to risk that relationship, then talk to him about it. Lay out the reasons why you need the money. If there are other children, it might be a simple matter of fairness to them. Based on your idea of deducting the money from his inheritance, I assume that the value you're docking from his inheritance will go somewhere else. Offer alternatives. You say that you can't take any money from him now, but letting him know that he can pay you in the future in lieu of loss of inheritance might be worthwhile. Be prepared with an idea of what to suggest if he says he can pay you some amount of money. Figure out what might be an acceptable payment plan and how to handle it if, at some point, he can't make payments for a time.

This is a potentially ugly situation, and I can't guarantee that it will turn out better, but the more you prepare for the questions he's going to ask, the better off you're going to be.


Seems fair. I think this is a real subjective thing. Financially lets get rid of that line before interest rates get too high. Maybe have him pay you the $200 he is paying towards the interest each month.


He's paying the interest and you're paying the principal. If you're making minimum monthly payments, you'll still be doing the same thing 25-30 years from now. I think Parker's advice was very, very good, but I'd like to add to it a little of my own. Whatever dollar amount your son is sending to you as payment, encourage him to continue doing that. Only instead of paying you, have him put that money into a savings plan of some kind. You mentioned that he's struggling now, yet able to come up with approximately (my best guess) $200/mo. I guarantee you that if he puts that $200/mo back into his pocket, he'll still be struggling every month yet have nothing to show for it. My suggestion changes nothing in his daily life, yet gives him $2400 at the end of every year.

I was in a somewhat similiar situation as your son, only to the tune of $13,000. About 20 years ago, I got a loan and bought a new truck in which to use to go back and forth to work every day. The first 5 months the payments to the bank went as planned. Then my wife announces that "we're" pregnant. So my parents figured it would be best to just pay off my loan to the bank, avoiding any further interest charges, and take that truck payment and put it away for a rainy day. At 33 y/o, with my first child on the way, I finally started saving some of my money. It was good advice on their part because the rainy days came! They never asked me to pay them back, however I did offer. I've been tucking away $300-400/mo in the bank every month since then because I just got into the habit. Good thing I did too. In the past 10 years I've had to bury both of my parents, one sister and two wives and I'll tell ya, one thing that was comforting was the fact that I had the money. The little truck I bought 20 years ago is now my son's. It has around 260,000 miles on it now. When he trades it in for a newer vehicle, I will probably loan him the money and have him make payments to me rather than the bank. I, too, am not one to pay interest if I can help it. If he defaults, he's my son. I just won't buy him another vehicle! Or maybe he'll get into the same habit of saving money the same way I did. Like JohnFx said, money loaned to family should be regarded as a gift, otherwise you'll end up losing your money AND your family member! Hope some of this helps you make your decision.


A few ideas.

  1. I suggest it would wise to consider what lesson is learned as a result of any resolution of a financial issue. Is it a lesson of responsibility and of the importance of keeping one's word, or of getting away with whatever happens (poorly planned business) with no adverse consequences. "No" consequences (e.g. forgiven loan) is also a consequence, and it sends a message.

  2. Sounds like paying the loan from your savings automatically means it's deducted from inheritance, since the savings are part of that inheritance. This may seem like a square deal if we ignore inflation. Assuming Today the $54K is worth much more than, unless it is adjusted for inflation, the same $54K will be worth (i.e. will allow to buy) a few decades from now, when the inheritance materializes.

So this option means your son is foregoing a significantly smaller financial loss in the future in exchange for foregoing his debt completely today. This is like borrowing $54K from a bank now, and only having to forego the same amount decades in the future when it is in fact worth much less. What borrower would not be happy with such arrangement, and what lender would do it? Only one's own loving parents :)

  1. Interestingly, one approach nobody has suggested is for you to legally transfer the $54 debt onto your son's family, since in fact it is now HIS debt. For instance, he could take an equity line on his house (if he has one) and use it to pay down your debt, then start paying off his equity line. There are probably other options also. Why not? Because they "need every penny." In the real world, one's needs are not a valid excuse for financial irresponsibility. In the real world needs are adjusted in line with capabilities that take into account one's financial obligations. If your son becomes a legal owner of the $54K debt, he will have to learn to adjust his family's spending and lifestyle to accommodate both the principal and interest payments. This will teach him many valuable lessons:
    • (re)balancing his checkbook;
    • being responsible for his financial decisions and obligations;
    • not making financially burdensome decisions (e.g. starting a family and having children) until he can afford it in light of his other financial obligations;
    • honoring his parents by assuming the responsibility for his own (risky) financial decisions, rather than transferring the responsibility for his mistakes onto the parents.

You are in charge of what life lessons your son will walk away with from this situation. Good luck!

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