Dear Miss Manners: My father-in-law was arrested last week. His family is obviously distraught over this.

In addition to the emotional problems, the sequence of events that followed his arrest have revealed that his wife’s finances are not exactly where they should be considering she is not too far away from retirement. (She was unable to bail him out of jail and had to borrow money from relatives to hire a lawyer.)

I am extremely concerned for her emotional and financial well-being, particularly considering she will likely be losing her husband’s income permanently. I have a knack for personal finances, so I was thinking about offering to try to help get her finances in order by figuring out if she is handling debt wisely, showing her money-saving strategies, etc. Would that be inappropriate?

Gentle Reader: Tragedy is certainly the time for relatives to offer their assistance, but Miss Manners sees the possibility of danger here.

If your mother-in-law had nothing to do with her husband’s crime, she is going to be freshly skittish about trusting even a member of the family. The poor state of her finances suggests an ineptitude that could hamper you in showing her that whatever you do is in her interest.

Now, what about the possibility that her finances show that she was – purposely or inadvertently – mixed up in your father-in-law’s situation? You really don’t want to be the one to handle that.

Miss Manners does not want to discourage you from helping a relative in dire need. She is only suggesting the wisdom of getting a disinterested and reputable professional to do the work.

The fork or the spoon?

Dear Miss Manners: I know about the existence of dessert spoons and forks, their placement and use. But I still don’t understand how to eat with them.

Eat the cake with the fork and leave the spoon alone? Eat the ice cream with the spoon and leave the fork? If there’s a sauce, do I – or may I – eat with the fork and mop up with the spoon? Do you ever use both at once?

Gentle Reader: Indeed you do: That is the default method at formal meals, used for every dessert except those when it would be ridiculous, such as – as you have noted – ice cream without cake, or cake without ice cream.

Miss Manners offers the two-utensil dessert setting as proof that etiquette, far from trying to trick hungry people by confusing them about what flatware to use, generously provides the tools to get the job done.

Send questions to; or through postal mail to Miss Manners, Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.