DEAR CAROLYN: Upon my parents’ death, my sibling and I very equitably and happily divided our small inheritance equally. Each of us, including our children, were allowed to pick items from my parents’ household that they especially wanted. All valuable items were included in the estate, sold, and the proceedings were divided equally.
Each of the three granddaughters was allowed to pick one ring of my mother’s as a keepsake. She had one we all knew was more valuable than the rest. One of my daughters chose this one, and since she seemed to want it for sentimental reasons, everyone was generous about letting her have it despite its somewhat higher value.
We had the ring appraised and discovered it was worth almost 10 times what we expected, but again, since it was a sentimental choice, no one contested the issue.
Now, however, several years later, my daughter is talking about selling the ring! I was stunned, and told her I felt she was obligated to share the proceeds with her siblings. Am I crazy, or does sharing seem like the only right thing to do?
A Disappointed Mom
DEAR MOM: You’re not crazy, your daughter is being obtuse at best or, at worst, greedy.
Perhaps a clearer explanation will penetrate the self-interest coating her heart: “Even though having this ring meant you received a significantly larger share of the estate, everyone agreed to it because you seemed so attached to the piece emotionally. Now that you want to sell it, it’s clear there was no attachment.
“Technically, it is yours to do with as you wish. But it does mean you are profiting off our kindness, and it will bother me a lot if that doesn’t bother you at all.”
DEAR CAROLYN: My husband’s (much) younger sister had a child as a teenager when she was not able to raise one due to drug problems and other issues. We became the baby’s legal guardian and raised her as our own. Earlier this year, at age 15, the child wanted to live nearby with the biological mother, who has gotten herself (somewhat) together.
The child we raised has a sibling, younger by eight years, and the mother only allows us to see them together. I didn’t raise the younger child as my own and naturally don’t feel the same attachment.
I feel torn purchasing gifts for one as I do for my other children while only getting a token gift for the sibling who lives in the same household. Help.
DEAR UNCLEFATHER: Of course you love the older child as one of your own, and the younger as a (spouse’s) niece/nephew. Everyone would understand that.
It’s there, it’s primal, and it’s your job as the adult to make sure the younger sibling never receives this burden from you, much less has to carry it alone. (If the sister had gone on to have four more kids, this might be a different answer.)
So spend the extra time and effort cultivating a relationship with the younger, and — by far the easier part — buy the younger sibling a gift “as I do for my other children.”
“Tell Me About It” by Carolyn Hax appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Send your questions to [email protected] or fax 202-334-5669.