by JEANNE FLEMING, PH.D. and LEONARD SCHWARZ
Question: When my grandmother died, she left most of her beautiful antiques to me. Now Mom wants me to share these with her sister’s two daughters. But neither of my cousins had anything to do with my grandmother for at least 10 years before her death, because my aunt and my grandmother were estranged. Mom says I need to do this to keep peace in the family. Must I? I know my cousins will just sell everything I give them.
Answer: An admirable goal, peace in the family, and you’re certainly obligated to take your mother’s request seriously. What you’re not obligated to do, however, is to suspend your own judgment of the reasonableness – or likely effectiveness – of what she’s proposing. And you should certainly take into account what your grandmother would have thought of the deal. It’s one thing if your mother is trying to make up for what was your grandmother’s unfair treatment of your aunt, say, and another if your mother is simply succumbing to her sister’s and nieces’ whining or bullying.
Then too, nothing says you can’t meet your mother’s request part way. For example, you might give each of your cousins just a single antique – ones you believe they might actually enjoy keeping. Another possibility: Specify in your will that some of the antiques go to your cousins or their children, thus ensuring that their “line” ultimately shares in these lovely mementos of your grandmother’s life. Finally, you wouldn’t be wrong to discuss with your mother whether there aren’t some things she inherited from your grandmother that could serve the same diplomatic purpose with her sister’s family as the antiques she’s asked you to part with.
Questions? Email Money Magazine’s ethicists – authors of “Isn’t It Their Turn to Pick Up the Check?” (Free Press) – at FlemingandSchwarz@right-thing.net.