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Money Manners: Bail out a spendthrift sibling?

Dear Jeanne and Leonard: I’m afraid our youngest daughter is becoming a tightwad. Relatives often give each of our daughters cash on their birthdays, holidays and other special occasions. Our 10-year-old, “Sophia,” salts this money away until she needs it to buy something special for herself, while our 12-year-old, “Alyssa,” usually blows her money on clothes as soon as she gets it. My husband and I are proud of Sophia for being a saver, and we wish that her sister were a little less grasshopper and a little more ant. Recently, however, Alyssa told us that she had asked Sophia to lend her $25 so she could buy her best friend a birthday present, and Sophia turned her down. I was horrified; I want my children to be generous with each other. Moreover, I know that Sophia has that $25 (and plenty more) and that her sister wants the loan for something worthwhile. I believe that my husband and I should talk with Sophia about the virtues of generosity and ask her to lend Alyssa the money, but he disagrees. Who’s right?

– Heather, Connecticut

Dear Heather: Are you ready to co-sign the loan? We’re not kidding.

Look, it’s one thing to encourage Sophia to be generous. We’re all for that. But it’s quite another to ask her to bail out her spendthrift sister. Surely, Alyssa knew that her friend’s birthday was on the horizon. If she’s out of cash and unable to buy the girl a gift, you should be using the moment to teach Alyssa about saving, not Sophia about generosity.

One more thing: If you encourage your daughters to believe that, in life, the sister who’s out of money automatically has a claim on the resources of the sister who has saved some, you’ll be doing both of your children a disservice.


Dear Jeanne and Leonard: When my mother started to become disoriented a few years ago, my brother dragged her to a lawyer and made her change her will so that he alone was the beneficiary of her most valuable asset, a cattle farm. Now, Mom has been diagnosed with full-blown dementia, and my brother has put himself in charge of her finances. He has let her house fall into disrepair, and he refuses to pay anything to my sister, who lives with Mom and takes care of her. According to him, “She’s living there rent-free, and that’s payment enough.” My question is: Do my sister and I have grounds to challenge our mother’s will after she’s gone?

– Vera, Kansas City Area

Dear Vera: Don’t wait until your mother’s gone to do something. See an attorney – now. Tell the attorney what you have told us, and find out what steps you can take to unseat your brother as your mother’s de facto guardian and to invalidate the new will he bullied her into signing. Adult Protective Services where your mother lives also may be able to help protect her interests – and yours. Good luck.

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