Dear Jeanne and Leonard: A year ago, I lent my daughter-in-law $5,000 to help her buy a car, and she agreed to repay me $100 a month (there was no interest and no written agreement). She subsequently made one payment, then stopped. Now she and my son are getting divorced, and it looks like she’ll be keeping the car. I would like to get my money back, and I feel my son is responsible for half of the amount, since I made the check out to both of them. How should I handle this?
– Chuck, Missouri
Dear Chuck: We salute your faith in human nature. But next time, get it in writing.
In the meantime, give a copy of the canceled $5,000 check and whatever documentation you have of the $100 payment (a bank statement showing the deposit, perhaps) to your son and ask him to give it to the attorney representing him in the divorce. Assuming your son is an honorable man, he will acknowledge the loan and instruct the attorney to see that it’s addressed in the divorce settlement, just like any other debt the couple has.
Not that this guarantees you’ll get your money back. But at least by having the loan included in your son and daughter-in-law’s settlement, you’ll have a written acknowledgment that the debt exists. And given their sorry payment history on the loan to date, you’re likely to need all the leverage you can get when you go to collect.
Dear Jeanne and Leonard: My father’s will named my two sisters as his executors, but my brother and I still helped a great deal with the settling of his estate, especially with all the paperwork required for probate. As a result of our many hours of effort, the lawyer charged only $2,500. But now my sisters have decided to pay themselves $40,000 from the estate for being the executors, an amount they say an attorney would have charged had one been appointed executor. My brother and I think this is outrageous. My sisters are not lawyers; Dad’s will doesn’t call for them to take a fee; and we all shared the work. What can my brother and I say to stop them?
– Feuding Family in Texas
Dear Feuding: Say? Individuals as aggressive as your sisters are unlikely to be deterred by anything you or your brother could possibly say. Face it, if they cared what you thought, you wouldn’t have this problem.
Given their lack of inhibition when it comes to lining their own pockets, all you can do is talk to a lawyer – not the attorney settling the estate, but one you hire to represent only you and your brother – and see if there’s a way to prevent your sisters from helping themselves to that $40,000.
Don’t want to sic a lawyer on them? That’s up to you. But really, what have your sisters done to deserve that consideration?
Dear Jeanne and Leonard: I recently had lunch with a friend and his wife at a café where he had a two-for-one coupon. When the check came, “Jack” expected me to pay half, pointing out that the coupon paid for his wife’s meal. Shouldn’t he have offered to pay two-thirds of the check, since they had two meals and I had one?
– Joe, Los Angeles
Dear Joe: What Jack should have done is asked for separate checks at the time the three of you ordered. Then the coupon wouldn’t have been an issue. But since he didn’t and since, as you say, he and his wife consumed two-thirds of the food, your friend should have graciously offered to pay two-thirds of the check. However, because his coupon paid for one of the three meals, you should have graciously offered to pay half of the remaining tab – that is, you should have offered to pay in full for your meal.
What Jack really should have done, though, is left the coupon at home. Check-splitting can be problematic enough without worrying about coupon-splitting.
Please email your questions about money and relationships to Questions@MoneyManners.net.