Using my inheritance to fund adult child's PhD: Aibu not to? Long post, sorry

(351 Posts)
toconclude Mon 14-Jun-21 12:44:05

DS2 has his heart set on an academic career in a niche subject(not STEM), related to his special interest - he's autistic but no LD in fact very bright. He lives rent free in his own home funded by a lump sum from invested DLA plus interest free loan from us.

Bluntly I feel his ambition is not realistic: even were he not autistic, openings in his field are very rare. But he's decided it's the only thing that will make him happy and talks of feeling very low if he can't achieve it. I've tried gently but clearly explaining how tough making an academic career is - I know people who have struggled severely and had in the end to follow other paths. Have suggested he look more short term and try to find more rewarding work day to day, get involved in his local community etc and follow the special interest as a hobby. Every conversation circles round to the same subject though.

He also struggles to stay employed anyway but puts it down to the jobs not being suitable for him - imo there is more to it than that as he finds social interaction hard at times and any fast paced environment stressful. He has no real idea of academic work and thinks it's all interesting research and set piece lecturing. Sadly his tutors so far do not seem to have impressed the reality onto him.

Thing is, I could in theory use my inheritance from late DM to fund a PhD, though it would eat the majority of it up especially if I were to match fund DS1 which would only be fair. DH and I can live modestly on his decent pension and my small one (had to take long career break due to DS2 needs and unpredictable nature of DH job at the time meaning no money for childcare and irregular contract working so irregular paternal availability). After DH dies I should also be financially stable. DMs money is just for an income for treats at present, plus rainy day/eventual care fund. DS2 does not know how much I have but says if I were 'more supportive, like other parents (unspecified, but he's sure they exist and I guess probably they do)' I'd help him out more and specifically with more study.

I think we've helped him a fair bit including financially - he is 30 and has never had to pay rent either at home or away,we funded 5 years of post 18 living and housing costs for first degree and Masters topping up his student loan plus regularly buying things he needs/paying essential bills and some big ticket items though he has met his basic living expenses through earnings and benefits.

Having looked at various MN threads consensus appears to be that we should financially support him until he can support himself but what if that's the rest of our lives? Am I just a selfish bitch for wanting more than a basic retirement? What will DS1, who frankly doesn't like his brother very much owing to many childhood and later embarrassments/stresses and doesn't keep in close touch with him, make of it if I do?

It would be so much easier if we just couldn't afford it, tbh. I feel morally compromised because in theory the cash is there. First world/middle class problem, eh?

He will never do without essentials, we're committed to that. We just seem to have very different ideas on what's essentialconfused

A medal for anyone who got this far, lol. Didn't want to dripfeed.

OP’s posts: |
BuffySummersReportingforSanity Mon 14-Jun-21 12:48:11

YANBU at all to not spend it.

In the politest way, he may some day need this money for something a lot more essential than a PhD. I think either he requires lifetime support in which case you need to hold onto the money for greater need down the line, or he is an autonomous adult and needs to fund indulgences like pleasure PhDs himself.

FoxgloveSummers Mon 14-Jun-21 12:48:28

I wouldn’t give him the money for this. It’s just delaying him having to make his own way for another 4 years or so, and he’ll doubtless then want to do a postdoct etc. Sounds like you’ve helped loads. He is clearly capable for finding employment and will have to do so at some point so why drain yourself dry with this. He sounds a bit spoilt to be honest (not that I don’t see why this could have happened if he finds life harder than his brother). He’s trying to guilt trip you into this.

FoxgloveSummers Mon 14-Jun-21 12:50:07

*post doc
*capable of

Etc - point stands!

Lumene Mon 14-Jun-21 12:50:23

How about agreeing to give him a percentage if he can find a way of earning the rest himself?

weaselwords Mon 14-Jun-21 12:52:18

It may be a useful lesson in independence for your son to fund his own academic studies. By all means give him and his brother some of your inheritance but only what you can afford and it’s up to them how they spend it.

FoxgloveSummers Mon 14-Jun-21 12:52:52

You’ve basically already agreed to support him to live a life mainly made up of hobbies, this is just saying no to paying tens of thousands for him to get highly qualified in a niche interest as well.


toconclude Mon 14-Jun-21 12:53:33

Finding employment is a real a struggle for him, he's 'too able' for support agencies but needs help to get and stay in work.
I have to say I don't think he's spoiled so much as unrealistic in his expectations. He almost never asks for money except about this.

OP’s posts: |
Weenurse Mon 14-Jun-21 12:54:12

I would not support him in this either.
He needs the reality of doing it on his own from now on.
Point out that most parents help stops after high school.
That he has had help this long is exceedingly generous.

Spanglemum Mon 14-Jun-21 12:55:16

I wouldn't fund a PhD in a non STEM area to be honest. Has he spoken to his university about his PhD proposal?

The vast majority of adults with ASD are, sadly, not in employment but that doesn't mean you have to go on funding him. I get DLA for my son and it's never occurred to me to invest it. You've done a lot for him already. I would save the money for now.

parietal Mon 14-Jun-21 12:55:24

Universities have scholarships for people to do PhDs. He needs to apply for these. If he can't get a funded place from the university, then a phd is not the right career path.

PotteringAlong Mon 14-Jun-21 12:56:53

Do not fund this! You are not helping him to think there is an unlimited cash fund to do whatever he wants!

Nextchapterofmybook Mon 14-Jun-21 12:57:09

Special needs aside, if there is no clear job at the end of it then you are just delaying the inevitable. Best to spend your time and money getting him into a career that will provide for him. Or if this will never be possible for him, then I’d save it to support him when you are gone.

BuffySummersReportingforSanity Mon 14-Jun-21 12:57:27

If he's purely doing this for pleasure, he can also get a British Library card and research independently. He doesn't need the academic validation if he has no intent of using it for work.

rainyskylight Mon 14-Jun-21 12:58:44

Do not fund this. If a university isn’t willing to give him the money to do his PhD then it’s not good enough. There are very few job openings the other side and it will be money down the drain.

Tooshytoshine Mon 14-Jun-21 12:59:16


If a career in his niche subject is viable then he needs to get a funded PhD. They are like hens teeth at the moment and highly competitive, but so are post doctoral posts. Qualifying for one usually indicate the likelihood of achieving the other. He can ask his academic supervisors about this - and should be reminded that academics will always encourage a fee paying student to apply for study as all they are having to justify is their ability to gain a doctorate not to subsequently gain employment. He should also ask about whether the PhD course offers paid tutoring/lecturing experience - again an indication of perceived merit of the candidate.

Doctorates (especially niche non STEM subjects) are not always looked upon favourably by employers in non academic circles...

However, all this aside, you should keep your inheritance and enjoy your retirement. His happiness is important but so is yours.

StudentProblems Mon 14-Jun-21 12:59:27

I’m doing a PhD, it is funded by the university. I also work as a sessional lecture and support myself entirely from the stipend and pay from my job. Could this be an option?

You don’t need to financially support anything that you don’t want to, and it is doable without the financial support of parents. I know, because I’m doing it right now.

Disfordarkchocolate Mon 14-Jun-21 12:59:36

I think you are being very reasonable, you have been extremely supportive so far but at some point he either needs to figure out how to self-fund or change his plans. Even very bright people who are capable of doing a PhD have no guarantee of an academic career afterwards. A friend who did one had to move 3 times in the next 5 years for her career. That's normal now until you have a clear track record of publication and grant potential.

Grimbelina Mon 14-Jun-21 12:59:39

You may well need that money for some other purpose or to support yourself. I say that as someone who has children with ASD and has developed a chronic illness which means I cannot now work. I can also see one of my children being very VERY persistent in trying to persuade me to do something like this. They would (sadly) not be interested in the reasons why it is not a good idea so do be prepared for this.

He needs to find some employment, even if part time, and perhaps can later dovetail the hobby and a job later on. There are some charities that can help work placements and he isn't 'too able' if he is struggling, so perhaps identify some new avenues of support?

SometimesRavenSometimesParrot Mon 14-Jun-21 13:00:23

Do not do it. Realistically if he can’t get funding for his PhD from a research council or similar, his chances of getting employment from it are nil. This is a waste of money, and you’re not helping him by enabling this.

He could look at scholarships/funding applications/grants, but you should not be using your inheritance. Apart from anything else, you might well find you need it for something much more important later in life. Home adaptations etc.

It sounds like you’ve supported him wonderfully, and far more than most parents would, for a long, long time. But he now needs to stand on his own two feet, not put that off for another 5 or so years doing a PhD. He has to do it sometime and better it happens now than later on when you’re less able to scaffold and support him in ways other than financial.

StudentProblems Mon 14-Jun-21 13:01:59


Universities have scholarships for people to do PhDs. He needs to apply for these. If he can't get a funded place from the university, then a phd is not the right career path.

As someone with one of these scholarships, I’m inclined to agree. Anecdotally, just as a PhD student myself, the work of those who I know who are finding themselves is much weaker. That’s just what I’m seeing.

Cameleongirl Mon 14-Jun-21 13:02:01

I wouldn’t spend your inheritance on this, it doesn’t sound as if he had a realistic idea of academic work and it may not suit him at all. At 30, he needs to come up with a more practical plan. @Lumene’s idea of giving him a percentage if he can work out the rest of the funding himself would be a generous gesture if you do want to help out. He’d need to look at the practicalities then.

Darkstar4855 Mon 14-Jun-21 13:02:21

YANBU. As a compromise perhaps you could offer to pay part of the cost if he can get funding or save money from working to cover the rest.

I think you have been more than generous already and at some point he has to work out a way to support himself a bit more. Most of us have had to do depressing jobs at some stage in our lives to pay the bills, it’s part of life I’m afraid.

StarryStarrySocks Mon 14-Jun-21 13:03:14

YANBU at all. Please use the money as you intend to, for your own future security. You've done a lot to support your DS's financial security already by the sounds of it, please do not be guilted into this. As others have said, if he wants to do the PhD, he can figure out a way to fund it.

LuvMyBubbles Mon 14-Jun-21 13:05:03

Nope. No. Never.

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