Dear Jeanne and Leonard: A few years ago, my cousin “Tom” purchased 20 acres of land with the intention of building a home on it. Shortly after that, he let me know about a piece of property adjoining his, property that was being foreclosed on and that I was able to acquire for a very good price.
Since then, Tom has built a home on his land, and he and his family now live there. But I’ve come to realize that country life isn’t for me, especially since the woman I recently married thinks that anyplace lacking a Saks and a Bloomingdale’s is by definition uncivilized. If I sell my property, I’ll get a great return on it. The problem is, I know that if I do, Tom will be let down. He often hunts on my land, and he’s been hoping I’ll build a house there, because we’ve always been close. How should I handle this situation?
Dear P.T.: That’s what you get for marrying a gal who likes indoor plumbing.
Seriously, before you put your property on the market, you should offer to sell it to your cousin for something less than what it’s worth. Tom deserves this consideration, first, because he found the property for you – and at a good price – and, second, because he’s your good friend and his property abuts yours.
The discount can be modest – say, 5 percent to 10 percent. After all, it’s your money, not Tom’s, that’s been invested in the property. Owing him a debt of gratitude doesn’t mean you’re not entitled to a profit.
By the way, don’t let this situation weigh too heavily on you. Tom may be less disappointed than you think by the news that a city-billy like your new missus is not going to be his neighbor.
Dear Jeanne and Leonard: My mother, a widow, raised four children. Then, when one of my sisters had some problems and could no longer take care of her then-12-year-old son, Mom legally adopted “Zach” and raised him, too. Recently, I learned that Mom’s will calls for her estate to be divided equally among her four children, plus Zach. I don’t think that’s fair. After all, Zach is her grandchild, not her child, and my sister who’s his biological mother is already in line to get a full share of Mom’s money.
Also, my mother has other grandchildren – my other siblings and I have five children between us – and she’s not leaving them anything. What do you think is the proper way for my mother to divide her estate?
Dear Unsettled: Carefully, very carefully.
Your points are well-taken. But the thing is, that money belongs to your mother, and she has the right to decide to treat Zach the same way she’s treating her biological children. Since he is legally her child as much as they are – she did, after all, adopt him – that doesn’t seem unreasonable. As for the other grandchildren feeling slighted, surely they understand that Zach has a different relationship with their grandmother than they do.
Still, there’d be nothing wrong with explaining to your mother why you think her will is unfair to you and your children and suggesting an alternative – say, leaving a one-eighth share to Zach and a one-eighth share to the daughter who is his birth mother. It might not have occurred to your mother that you’re as troubled as you are by her bequests. And it also might not have occurred to her that, in giving Zach a one-fifth share of her estate, one branch of her family tree is getting favored treatment.
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