Dear Mensch: Many years ago, my husband’s father, Frank, a Holocaust survivor, started a company which now employs my husband, his brother and nearly 30 others. Frank, now in his 90s, is retired but is supported by income from the business. Although he always enjoyed playing cards and gaming in casinos, now that he is too old for work and for golf, gambling has become his main pursuit. He has been spending a lot of time in casinos and his losses, which used to be manageable, are mounting. He has been demanding an increasing share of income from the business and my husband, wanting to honor his father, has been granting these increases. But he’s increasingly worried about cash flow and how to fund the operation and pay the employees. He is torn between the needs of the business and his loyalty to his dad. How can I convince my husband that he needs to confront Frank on this matter? Our family depends on this business. — Ellie
Dear Ellie: Your husband has a lot on his plate. Running a business with 30 employees is hard work, and aging parents are challenging. But your husband must absolutely address the situation of Frank’s gambling.
You state that your husband is torn between the needs of the business and loyalty to his father. However, Mensch would argue that taking care of the business Frank built and that still supports his descendants (as well as the old man himself) is, in fact, a great demonstration of loyalty.
If Frank is mentally acute and willing to listen, your husband should explain to him that his income cannot be increased if doing so endangers the business. I’m hoping Frank will understand the priorities here and accept them. If your husband has power to limit Frank’s income, he should have no hesitation doing so. Yes, he deserves money to live in comfort, but he does not have a right to squander his family’s wealth at the card table.
If Frank exerts a measure of control over the business and fails to agree to limit his take, your husband might well solicit expert advice from a legal adviser specializing in family businesses. The stakes are high.