Dear Jeanne and Leonard: When my brother “Bob” was in college, his girlfriend got pregnant, and their baby was put up for adoption. The child, “Christine,” was raised by a loving and wealthy family and became a successful businesswoman. Only in the past few years have she and my brother been in touch. In the meantime, Bob married another woman, with whom he’s had no children. Recently Bob prepared a will for our 90-year-old mother. It states that he and I are to inherit Mom’s home and that, in the event that we don’t outlive her, our children are to receive our shares (I have two daughters). This doesn’t seem right. Christine has already inherited gobs of money from her adoptive grandparents, and will inherit more from her parents. Meanwhile, my daughters and I have very little. If my brother wants to leave his own money to his daughter, that’s his business. But isn’t it wrong for Christine, who’s had almost no contact with my mother, to be a major beneficiary in Mom’s will?
– Rachel, Northern California
Dear Rachel: It’s certainly wrong if your mother doesn’t want Christine to be a beneficiary. So the question is: Does your elderly mother fully understand the terms of her will? If not, or if your brother pressured her to include Christine, then you have every reason to object to the bequest.
However, even if the will accurately represents your mother’s wishes, we encourage you to explain to her why you feel she should not be leaving a 50 percent stake in her home to Christine. You make a good case for why the scale of the bequest is inappropriate, and we hope your mother listens.
Dear Jeanne and Leonard: A wealthy friend of mine supports his son “Alex” and Alex’s family of four. Alex is a would-be screenwriter who for years has been claiming that this studio or that studio is about to pay him a fortune for one of his scripts. Meanwhile, our friend makes Alex’s mortgage and car payments (a BMW, of course), sends his children to private schools and “lends” Alex the money he needs to live like a king. Recently, I overheard Alex tell his father that he needed money to pay the satellite radio bill for his car, and I joked to my friend, “Is there anything that kid can live without?” Instead of laughing, my friend became furious. So I apologized just to calm him down.
But I’m wondering: Is there anything really wrong with pointing out to a friend that his son is taking advantage of him financially?
– C.C., Los Angeles
Dear C.C.: You’re right – there’s nothing wrong with explaining to a good friend why you fear a relative is taking advantage of him. But that’s not what you did. What you did was take a shot at your friend’s son.
That your observation was spot-on doesn’t get you off the hook. Instead of expressing concern or offering your friend counsel, you simply snickered at his son’s lack of character. And in doing so, you snickered at your friend as well, for bankrolling the guy. So you were right to apologize. Too bad you weren’t sincere.
Dear Jeanne and Leonard: Our son-in-law is a complete loser, and I want to give our daughter some money to keep in her name only – money to be kept hidden from him. My husband says I’m only looking for trouble. What do you say?
– Olivia in Oregon
Dear Olivia: We’d say your husband is an optimist. You’re not just looking for trouble; by encouraging your daughter to hide money from her husband, you’re creating it.
If you believe financial problems are in your daughter’s future, by all means be prepared to cover her back. But don’t insist that she conceal from her spouse a big check from you. You’ll only be putting her in a position where she has to decide between betraying her husband’s trust or yours.
Please email your questions about money and relationships to Questions@MoneyManners.net.