Dear Jeanne and Leonard: My siblings and I own a piece of property, and we’ve decided to sell it. One of us has a daughter who has asked to buy it at a “family discount.” Is that a reasonable request? I’m having my doubts.
– Alison, Schenectady
Dear Alison: It’s certainly reasonable from your niece’s perspective. Who wouldn’t like to buy real estate for less than its market value?
All of which is to say that your doubts are well-founded. Look, it would be one thing if you and your siblings owned, for example, a jewelry store, and your niece asked for a discount on a necklace. In that situation, she would essentially be asking you to forgo some of the profit you earn by buying necklaces wholesale and selling them retail. It’s a discount rooted in the belief that families aren’t supposed to make money selling things to one another, and its most aggressive proponents are folks who willfully ignore the overhead of the seller.
But that’s another story. The “family discount” your niece wants has nothing to do with the gap between wholesale and retail prices. On the contrary, what she’s asking for is nothing less than to be given a portion of an investment that belongs to you. Look at it this way: If you and your siblings sold the property to her at market value, then each of you gave her, say, 10 percent of his or her share of the proceeds, everyone would end up in exactly the same position as if you had given your niece a 10 percent “family discount.”
Either way – and no matter what she calls it – it’s a transfer of dough from you to her. While it’s not uncommon for families to enter into arrangements like this, you should do so only if there’s some particular reason why you want to give this particular niece a very substantial gift.
Dear Jeanne and Leonard: My brother died, leaving me as the executor of his estate. Now my sister is asking for some of his money, even though he didn’t leave her anything (he left everything to me). I could be nice and give her some, but I don’t like being pressured. Also, before he died, I asked him directly if he wanted to leave our sister something, and he said absolutely not. What should I do?
– M.T., Alameda County, Calif.
Dear M.T.: Just what about being excluded from your brother’s will does your sister not understand?
As your brother’s executor, you have both a legal and a moral obligation to distribute the funds in his estate in accordance with his wishes. How you feel and what your sister wants have no bearing on the situation.
That said, the money you inherit from your brother is yours, to do with as you choose. So if you want to give some of it to your sister, you have a legal right to do so. But you would clearly be violating the spirit in which your brother left it to you.
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