Comments: 22

  1. I believe that in the case of the parents who got themselves in financial trouble by not repaying a loan sooner, there is zero ethical requirement that the child whose college education was paid (to whatever degree) by this loan help her parents now.

    It is always nice when one person helps another, and especially when close friends or family members do so. But what's merely nice is not at issue.

    I believe that financial issues *are* different from other kinds, insofar as financial obligations in our society are typically handled by clear unambiguous agreements, whether a legal contract or merely an oral agreement. No such agreement occurred in this case.

  2. You must simply be baiting uswith both the student loan question and answer...
    Autrement dit, You MUST be kidding!

    Money is fungible. Family is not. Shall the parents enumerate every time their daughter went astray? Help your parents! They helped you!

    And how judgemental - "mismanaging money" - a rather subjective statement... But this one jsut takes teh cake - "not working as much as they could"...what on earth does that mean??

    Not paying the loan - bad. Gambling when you can't afford it - bad...

    But for the daughter they put through school to turn her back - appalling! Help them out. Set up a plan by which they contribute and take responsibility too.

    Oh - and please - never have kids of your own.

  3. Most college students receive some financial aid. The amount is based on the parents' financial situation, their expenses and on the student's own savings and income. Many students also find that they need to take out a loan.

    This is why the government sponsors loans to students at rates that are usually much more reasonable than the student's parents would get for a, probably unsecured, loan. So I have a problem with the parents' having taken a loan in the first place. The loan should have been taken out by the daughter -- it would then be her obligation to repay.

    More importantly, though, the letter writer is probably incorrect in stating that Social Security payments are being garnished. This is against the law. I believe an exception is made when the creditor is the federal government. Which leads to another puzzlement -- loans from the government are made to the student, not the parent.

    It is kind of the Ethicist to answer the question asked. It is probably more helpful, though, for the questioner to have all the facts.

    Then, again, I may be wrong.

  4. If the daughter can now afford to pay back the $17,000 loan, it's hard for me to understand why she is even thinking twice about whether she should. The interest and penalties that may have accrued, well, that might be open to discussion. But shouldn't she actually be grateful that, thanks to the education they helped make possible, she is in a position to pay them back for the debt they willingly took on to make her life better? She appears more interested in judging their morals and work ethic than in showing that she appreciates the opportunities they gave her.

  5. A student loan is forever. Even thru a bankruptcy. I heard of a postal worker who was put on disability and couldn't work. His meager disability payments were garnished for a student loan made years earlier.

  6. I think the daughter and her husband if they are financially able to do so should help remove the financial burden of the loan (and interest) from her parents. They helped her when she needed it and hopefully the loan helped her become financially stable and it is now time to help her parents regardless of any legal or moral obligation to do so.

  7. Ethically, the daughter, who now has the means, should pay back the loan for her education. Repeat, her education, with which I assume she has garnered benefits and the ability to repay. If she is angry at her parents for their behavior, then she shouldn't punish them this way. She reaped the benefit, she should also be willing to take the responsibility.

    Also she may be able to renegotiate with the lender and reduce the interest and penalties.

  8. O please! Her hapless parents took out a loan for her education. Being hapless, they mismanaged the payments on it. Now it turns out she and her husband want to dispute about helping them out. I say such cold calculations betray a deficient heart.

  9. It seems to me that the right thing for the daughter-in-law to do would be to pay back the original $17,000 that was taken out for her education, if she and her husband can now afford that. In the process she participates in her own upkeep, acknowledges her parents efforts/sacrifices, but can communicate to them how they behaviors created a bigger problem in the long run. She may not be ethically required to do that, but I think it is the right thing.

  10. I wonder how much of the animosity towards the "dead beat" parents is coming from the daughter. The mother-in-law wrote the letter, these are her words we are hearing. It sounds like she is annoyed that her son married into a family she never liked in the first place.

  11. It is unseemly to ask a parent to foot the bill for college when they may be needing money for their own retirement. The most ethical (and compassionate) solution would be for the daughter to contact the loan officer and ask for the amount, including interest, that would have been paid back if all the installments had been made on a timely basis. If that amount were say, 20,000 dollars, then the daughter can repay her parents that amount and let them deal with the rest of the amount owed due to their own negligence.

  12. The daughter appears not to have much affection for her now impoverished parents. Perhaps she has risen too high in status—with her loan for a good education greasing the way.

    I would think that the daughter would pay back the parents the full amount of the loan and let the parents deal with the penalties. It is not the daughter's job to judge her parents; it could be their mismanagement of money was brought on by hopeless depression...the result of unwisely shouldering a student loan they could not hope to pay back.

    "Sharper than the serpent's tooth is the thankless child" WS

  13. She should at least pay 17K towards the education money that she benefitted from. Parents are under no obligation to fund higher education. Those that do are going above and beyond. If a parent is unable to do this, the adult who desires (in this case benefitted from) the education opportunity must be responsible.

  14. What's missing here is any idea of tthe relationship, other than financial, of the daughter-in-law to her parents. Were they emotionally neglectful, abusive, or overly controlling, to cause such estrangement that this is presented as only a money issue? How heavily do they gamble? Had the query been written by the DIL, perhaps it might have revealed more compelling reasons ( or not) for the reluctance to aid her parents.

  15. Re: The question of what to do with a deceased employee’s email (in this case involving a troubling, unsent email about their marriage), you conclude: “Only one thing is clear: company e-mail is company property.” Whatever the legal situation may be, in an age where employees spend increasing portions of their lives at work, and in many cases have their work computer (at work, or a laptop that they can bring home to do still more work) as their default computer, legal ownership does not equal ethical ownership. If the employee had used Dropbox or some other cloud application to store their emails the particular details of this situation might be moot, but for many people (as Rumsfeld would remind you) you work with what you’ve got. Moreover, if this email was about troubles within the marriage, the user may not have wanted to write this on a computer at home, where privacy (in terms of time to be alone, and privacy of the computer) may have been lacking.

    There are potential arguments on both sides about what to do with the email. The “ownership” of personal email stored on a computer owned by a company is a wholly different ethical issue. It is not an answer to the original question at all.

  16. Ethical questions are sometimes asked and answered because the questioner wants to feel better about himself or herself. The main issue here as I see it is the financial need of parents who allegedly created their own problems by injurious behavior.

    That is a practical issue with practical possibilities and only then do ethical questions come into focus. Enabling the parents to injure themselves further would be wrong. Helping the parents to live better on all levels would be right.

    In every human decision one may experience the impulse to dominate another in some way even while doing something good. To feed the poor and condescend to them at the same time would be grotesque. I guess we need to think not only about Ethics, but also about Virtue as Dr. Johnson spoke of it.

  17. "Should someone asked to sort through a deceased colleague’s office e-mails delete an unfinished letter detailing “some pretty heavy marital woes”? Or should the draft be forwarded to the spouse?"

    Schadenfreude...plain and's too late for either one to do anything about it.

  18. “which would help [him or] her arrive at closure.”

    Why perpetuate this deception which is nothing more than a social lie ?
    The word implies putting a barrier between one & an event.
    CLOSURE is an END, it is final, the terminal from which there is no return.
    One is only able to obtain CLOSURE upon death, there is no other way, the mind cannot delete experience only ignore & deny it & the reverberations from the experience.

    "Obtaining closure" is unrealistic, unobtainable & a fallacy.
    You either learn to ignore, deny or forget thru distraction if you unable to reconcile comfortably.

    Closure is one of the largest expectations one can never obtain, you cannot run away from your own memories & experiences.

  19. This is a wishy-washy non-answer -- I yearn for our old ethicist. At any rate, the daughter-inlaw has every ethical responsiblity to assist her parents with the loans thet took out (with no obligation to do so) to pay for her education. Exactly how much do we get to judge everyone else before agreeing that the ethical thing is to help? Gambling? How much is too much? Did they buy name brand detergents when they could have saved buying generic?

  20. And no one mentions the usury of owing more than double the original amount of the loan, even after some repayment...?

    An attorney may be helpful, at this point, to explore the parents' options for repayment.

    If the daughter can assist her parents with repayment without financial peril to herself, and with an attitude of graciousness, then she should do so.

  21. In 2010 dollars, the $17,000 loan comes to around $24,000. Does the ethicist see any problem with the fact that the parents now owe almost twice that amount due to interest and penalties?

  22. Re question 1: Is compassion perhaps the trump ethic? While a perspectivist-materialist will answer this question differently than a spiritualist-humanist, I will posit that compassion, rather than secular pragmatism, is indeed the trump ethic or near to it. So, whichever course best addresses the parents' suffering might be the route to take. BUT, if assisting the parents economically would prove divisive in terms of the recipients' reactions, i.e., it gives mom nightmares and fits owing to thoughts of burdening her precious, parsimonious princess, thus resulting in a net LOSS (gain) of well-being even as dad takes great glee in greater gambling and imagined afflictions delivered upon the son-in-law (whom he non-verbally-openly resents) for a net GAIN (loss) in terms of what he IMAGINES his well-being to be...

    Unless we can relay what benefits a person, not as they imagine but TRULY (Quid est...?), is it not difficult unto impossible to render SIGNIFICANT assistance? "Who has put anyone past the need of further help?" I paraphrase Nisargadatta. Ethics is what we fuss with till enlightenment come crashing in. After that it's as unmindful as breathing.

    Re question 2: Whether or not to send the e-mail is of no import. The bottom line is the company's bottom line. The deceased employee's last paycheck should be garnished or, if it's too late to do so, compensation secured from his estate for whatever time or equipment utilization were stolen in the composition of said e-mail. If there are obstacles to such appropriations the man's widow or offspring must be pressed into servitude until the debt - with interest and additional expenditures accrued during reacquisition of lost revenue - is paid off.

    Aside?: Didn't the Lord's Prayer read, '... forgive us our debtors...' before, '... forgive us our trespassers...'?