Dear Jeanne and Leonard: While my mother and I are very close, my brother “Dave” has basically ignored her for the past 25 years. Over the past year or so, however, he’s begun calling Mom regularly. Knowing Dave, he’s ratcheted up the contact because he’s worried his now very elderly mother might leave him out of her will, something I doubt very much she would do. And while I think he doesn’t deserve a dime, I can understand why Mom feels differently. What’s bothering me is standing silently by while my brother shamelessly butters up our mother just to get his hands on her money. Still, I don’t want to talk to her about this because I can tell she wants to believe that Dave’s had a change of heart. But should I say something to him?
– Olivia, New Jersey
Dear Olivia: Yes: Tell him, “How nice of you to start checking in.”
Since your mother enjoys hearing from her son, and since his calls apparently aren’t leading her to change or not change her will, there’s no reason for you to discourage them. But there’s also no reason for you to keep from your brother your disapproval of his cynicism and insincerity. So go ahead, let the judgment flow.
Dear Jeanne and Leonard: Who pays for the ticket when you’re with a friend who’s pulled over for speeding – just him, or both of you? My friend is furious because I won’t pay for half of the speeding ticket he got when he was driving us to a movie. It’s true that we were late, and it’s also true that I never urged him to slow down. But I never encouraged him to speed up, either, and I definitely never encouraged him to break the law. Who’s right?
– Christopher, Tennessee
Dear Christopher: We take it you’re not planning to ask your friend for a ride to the airport anytime soon.
You’re wrong that the test for whether you should split the ticket is whether you explicitly consented to the speed at which your friend was driving. In fact, the opposite is true. Your pal was doing you a favor (giving you a ride), and he was speeding in order to deliver something both of you wanted (an on-time arrival at the movies). Under the circumstances, he could reasonably assume that, in failing to say anything, you tacitly approved of his behavior. In other words, unless you specifically cautioned him against speeding, you owe this guy some money.
Dear Jeanne and Leonard: My mother-in-law, who just sold her house so she can move into a senior residence, wants to give my husband and his sister $14,000 each, which is the maximum amount for a tax-free gift. When my sister-in-law and I talked about it, though, she said that if Mom ever has to go into a nursing home, we’ll have to pay back the money. Can she possibly be right? I don’t see why a nursing home has anything to do with money that my mother-in-law gives away before she ever gets there.
– A.M., Missouri
Dear A.M.: There are situations – bankruptcies, for example – in which people are forced to return money relatives have given them. This probably isn’t one of those situations, but you should check with a lawyer to be sure.
Perhaps, however, your sister-in-law is less worried that someone will one day come after the money than she is that her mother’s remaining financial resources might not last as long as her mother. Long-term nursing care is very expensive, the proceeds from the sale of a house notwithstanding. And if your elderly mother-in-law’s gifts to her children prove to have been imprudent, imagine how your husband and his sister would feel if they had to say: “Sorry, Mom, can’t help. But we sure did appreciate those $14,000 checks.”
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