Dear Jeanne and Leonard: Am I responsible for paying my mother’s bills if I’m not a beneficiary of her will? My sister says I’m obligated to pay for half of Mom’s care. But my sister made my mother sign a will that leaves everything to her. (Mom’s in no condition, mentally or physically, to resist my sister’s wishes.) Under the circumstances, am I really obligated to pay?
– D.G., San Antonio
Dear D.G.: If your mother has some assets – and it sounds as if she does – why aren’t these assets being used to pay for her care? Is your sister so greedy that she plans to maximize the size of the estate that she alone inherits from your mother by dumping your mother’s bills on you?
Whatever your sister’s objective, you shouldn’t stand for her coercing your mother into signing a new will and playing games with your mother’s bills and possibly her bank accounts. You need to talk to a lawyer, and pronto. It’s time to undo Sis’ handiwork, then rein her in before she gets any more bright ideas. Meanwhile, don’t worry about whether you’re obligated to pay your mother’s bills. That can wait until you’ve determined if she’s unable to pay them herself.
Dear Jeanne and Leonard: Before my book group went out to lunch at a nice restaurant, all 15 of us agreed that we’d divide the tab equally. But when the check arrived, “Amy” announced that she would pay only for what she ate. She said that since she drank only iced tea, she shouldn’t have to pay for the “Manhattans, martinis and merlots” the rest of us ordered. Since Amy already had agreed to split the tab, and since she knew all along that the rest of us probably were going to have a drink or two, wasn’t she being cheap and unreasonable?
– Book Lover
Dear Book Lover: Unreasonable, yes. If Amy didn’t want to pay a piece of the bar tab, she should have spoken up when all of you first agreed to split the check, not when it arrived.
But cheap? No way. Suppose the 14 of you had an average of two drinks each, at an average cost of $10 a drink, including tax and tip. That adds up to $280, making Amy’s share of the booze bill close to $19. That must have raised the cost of her meal by at least 50 percent, if not 100 percent. Be fair, Book Lover. That’s not chump change.
Dear Jeanne and Leonard: My aunt, the sole surviving member of her generation, is the beneficiary of two family trusts. For as long as she lives, Auntie is entitled to all of the income from both trusts, each of which easily produces enough income to support her. When Auntie dies, one trust will be divided equally among all the children in the next generation, and the other trust will be divided among all of us except my sister “Laurel.” This is because she was born after our grandparents, who endowed this trust, had died. Now, here’s the problem: Auntie disapproves of Laurel because Laurel is a lesbian, so she’s taking money only from the trust of which Laurel is a beneficiary. In other words, she’s doing her best to see that Laurel inherits as little as possible. I know Auntie has the legal right to do this, but isn’t it wrong? It seems mean.
– C.J., San Francisco Bay Area
Dear C.J.: Well, it’s hard to believe she’s abiding by the spirit in which the trusts were created. But it’s not as if you can’t reverse the consequences of your aunt’s actions. Because once your aunt dies, you and the other beneficiaries of the trust that excludes Laurel are free to share your inheritance with her. Checkmate, Auntie.
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