Should My Gravely Ill Brother-in-Law Pay for Ruining Our Home?

Dear Penny,

Fifteen years ago we paid $17,000 to renovate my husband’s homestead that his mom left him. His brother had recently divorced and was on Social Security only. He’s 78 now. We only asked that he not smoke inside and keep it clean, and we didn’t t charge rent.

In the beginning, he kept it immaculate. In the last three years, his health began to decline. He assured us he was taking care of everything but always wanted to sit on the porch when we visited.

Last week, he was hospitalized for COVID pneumonia and was unresponsive. We needed to find his meds for the hospital doctor. The house was a disaster!

Two rooms were blocked off, and I’m scared to look. There are clothes piled 3 feet high on the kitchen table, 20-plus bags of garbage in the kitchen, and black mold on the counter that probably hadn’t been cleaned in a year. The bathroom was black, too. Needless to say, there are spider webs and thick dust throughout the place.

If and when he’s released, there is no way he can return home. The place is probably cleanable, but it’s going to take weeks. I’m not sure where to start.

Should we charge my brother-in-law for cleaning? We didn’t have a lease since he wasn’t paying. We can’t afford to pay someone ourselves. We had planned on selling the house when he eventually passed away but with this mess, that’s not possible either. We can’t discuss it with him at the moment due to his health, but this makes us sick to see and I’m not sure how to handle it. Any advice?


Dear L.,

You’re not wrong for wanting your brother-in-law to pay for the damage he’s caused, but be realistic. He’s 78. He’s in poor health. Presumably, he’s still living off his Social Security. Even if you sent your brother- in-law the bill for cleaning, do you think he’d be able to pay it?

It doesn’t sound like he allowed the property to deteriorate out of laziness since he initially kept it in good shape. I’m guessing he became overwhelmed…

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