Money Manners

Teach grab-it-all niece the meaning of ‘bequest’


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


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.

Headmaster should pay full price

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


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.