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Money Manners: Niece took dishes meant for reader

Dear Jeanne and Leonard: Shortly after my mother-in-law died, my niece and her husband backed a moving van up to my mother-in-law’s house and took just about everything. One of the things my niece left with was a set of everyday stoneware that I was supposed to get. These dishes have great sentimental value to me because my husband and I lived with my mother-in-law when we were first married, and “Mom” and I served the meals we made together on them. Moreover, Mom wanted me to have them, and she said so in a note that she put next to her will. Although my husband and I have repeatedly left messages for our niece regarding the stoneware, she’s ignoring us. So here’s the question: We’ve been planning to divide our share of the money we’ll receive from Mom’s estate among her seven grandchildren. Now, though, we’re thinking of withholding our gift to our niece until she gives us the stoneware. Is this reasonable? We don’t want to be small, but we don’t know what else to do.

Frustrated, Texas

Dear Frustrated: Apparently your niece is unfamiliar with the concept of a bequest.

We’re only half-kidding. Send her a copy of the note your mother-in-law left with her will. Then by all means refrain from sharing the money you inherit with Little-Miss-Grab-It-All until she delivers the dishes. It’s not petty – or blackmail – to attach this condition to your gift. But be sure to tell your niece what the deal is. Incentives don’t work if incentivees don’t know about them.


Dear Jeanne and Leonard: When the head of school at the private school my son attends came into my Oriental rug shop, I gave him a great deal on a beautiful hall runner. A few weeks later, I called “Dr. S.” to ask if he’d look into getting some financial aid for my son to help with tuition. (The school is expensive, and this has been a lean year at the shop.) Dr. S. told me he couldn’t do anything for us and implied that I was wrong to have asked. Was I? The guy didn’t hesitate to take advantage of the fact that I am the parent of a student to get himself a better price on an expensive rug.

Eric, Pennsylvania

Dear Eric: We hope you didn’t throw in a rug mat.

Kidding aside, yes, you were wrong. Your request for financial aid makes the courtesy you extended to Dr. S. appear to have been a bribe. But Dr. S. was more wrong. He never should have accepted a substantial favor from the parent of a student precisely because he could one day find himself being expected to return it. And instead of implying that you did something wrong in asking him for financial aid, Dr. S. should have acknowledged and apologized for the mistake he made in allowing you to discount the hall runner for him and insisted on paying you the full price of the rug.

If this guy shows up at your shop again, refer him to a merchant who has ties to a rival school.


Dear Jeanne and Leonard: Senior citizens where I live pay a reduced fare to take public transportation. I am a senior, but fortunately I’m in good shape financially. Under the circumstances, is it wrong for me to take advantage of the reduced fares? A friend thinks it is. But if the transit authority had wanted only lower-income seniors to have the benefit of the lower fares, wouldn’t they have set it up so that income as well as age determined eligibility?

F.F., Los Angeles

Dear F.F.: Does your friend also think you’re not entitled to Medicare?

Ignore your sanctimonious pal. You qualify for the reduced fare, and he doesn’t get to add his own amendments to public policy.

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