Sorry, Sweetie, but I Need Daddy’s Estate Back

My brother left everything to me. I decided to give his daughter half. Then I changed my mind.

Comments: 124

  1. #1 is a legal question. She may not be able to back out now, and she needs to contact an attorney before doing so.

  2. @Nico Phil recognized the potential legal issue and kindly asked us to assume the writer is on solid legal footing so that he could answer this thorny question from a relationship-based perspective. Because Phil has a JD I have an inkling that the the writer's promise indeed falls into one of the "several exceptions that requires agreements to be in writing" but, it being wholly inappropriate to formally dispense legal advice in this column, chose instead to simply put the issue to bed.

  3. @Nico The response addressed that by asking readers not to worry about legalities. LW1 doesn't need an advice columnist to direct her to a lawyer. Why is it that people can't accept the final wishes of the deceased? The niece is DOING WELL FINANCIALLY so the brother thought his sister could benefit more from his modest estate than his daughter & acted accordingly. There may be other reasons - the daughter could be the beneficiary of a significant maternal estate, has a fabulous career, a rich husband, or lottery winnings. LW1 decided that his decision to exclude the daughter was somehow "wrong" & she was going to right it. Turns out the brother was correct - the sister DOES need the money more than the daughter & she has it thanks to her brother's generosity. The problem was created by the sister's second-guessing her brother's intention. The recommendation to be truthful in telling the daughter is appropriate.

  4. @Nico Wouldn't it be nice to think that in this instance the niece is not going to leap for the phone and call a lawyer? As an outsider, I'm constantly amazed at how often the first response to many things in your country is to sue. I'm with Philip on this and wish the LW and her niece peace and a continued good relationship long into the future.

  5. Galanes is so right about the disinherited daughter in the first letter. Something similar happened in my family, and the gut level hurt of the child trumped intellect and reason by a mile.

  6. @MH My parents made me executor of their estate with the explicit statement that since their estate was divided evenly among children and step-children, they wanted me to have that bit extra of payment for being executor, stating it was in appreciation for all I had done for them over the years. My siblings insisted on doing as much work as they could from a distance post funeral (taking a weekend to help clear the house, etc.) and while I am sure it was in part to show that they deserved some of the executor's fee, I chalked it up to a need to process the loss and I deliberately divided the executor's fee evenly among us. I appreciated my parents' intent but felt I wanted to remain on good terms with my siblings. Win-win because my parents felt satisfied they had done the right thing, and my siblings knew they meant more to me than the money. LW has an agonizing circumstance, however. Still, if she can part with a portion of the inheritance with explanation, they may help soothe the pain of the disinherited daughter.

  7. @Eileen My parents left my sister in total charge of their trust. They and she live(d) in the same state. I do not. Ten years later she is still angry with them for dying and leaving her alone and has done nothing to end/fix the trust. Any objection we make to what she does or does not do excludes us from benefiting from the trust. So everything will remain in limbo until she dies. So much for my parents' careful planning.

  8. @Sandy You need to consult an estate lawyer to see if you can clear the logjam.

  9. About the first question, I am not a lawyer but my family is full of them. There isn't a contract because there is no exchange of considerations. That is, in return for the promise of half the estate the niece didn't agree to do something, at least insofar as we know.

  10. @FM Postscript I know that what I said is not helpful with respect to how the letter writer should deal with situation, but at least (I am quite certain) there isn't a legal issue.

  11. @FM If the niece took any actions at all - such as simply leasing a new car on the basis of the promise - then it can be enforceable.

  12. @SteveRR - I'm not a lawyer, but I am taking a law class right now and just discussed this. What FM said is absolutely correct based on what I've learned in my class and what is in my textbook. No consideration--that is the niece wasn't providing something in return-- means there is no contract. If she leased a car or did something else based on that verbal promise, there is no contract.

  13. Does the niece know how much the estate is worth? Give her a portion but not half. Never let her know how much full estate is worth but tell her you couldn’t in these circumstances give her half.

  14. @Slim chance So, going back on your word and lying on top of that is OK? Sheesh.

  15. @John Harper Neither actually. No lying involved and she is still sharing inheritance. I didn’t know how much my inheritance was till I got it in installments over 16 months and then more when we sold the house. Its okay for everyone

  16. @Slim chance You do realise that in some states, depending on the amount of the estate, this information may be publicly available - if not immediately, then in a few years. Why risk even more bad blood?

  17. I have had similar experiences at the theater. I reported it to the usher at intermission and they simply reseated us. No issues.

  18. The same thing happened in my family. My grandmother told me, before she died, that she had instructed my mother to split her (my grandmother's) estate 50-25-25 with my brother. My grandmother died right around the time I was getting a divorce and moving back to my hometown. I could have really used the money to help me get back on my feet. I mentioned it several times over the next few months and she never responded to me. She treated me like I wasn't there. She ignored my questions, like "why aren't you talking to me?" She ended up giving me $10K, far less than the $200K my grandmother instructed her to. I never thought my family - which is very small - would let money become an issue between us. Bottom line, my advice to anyone else, if someone makes you a verbal promise, either get it is writing and witnessed by a notary, or treat it like you never heard it to begin with.

  19. @Gina Cantabene My mother and her sister were quite comfortable when their parents died. My grandparents provided well for them. They also set up a generation-skipping trust with provisions for my mother and aunt to be able to withdraw money if they needed. And a trust for education and medical needs. RESULT: My mother and her greedy sister found a lawyer to break the trust (for a lot of money and my brother, an MD, testifying at the lawyer's nephew's Injury lawsuit. Your grandmother should have had a tight will, but that's no guarantee.

  20. If it’s not in writing, it’s not enforceable. Period.

  21. Well, it’s kind of in writing now isn’t it? In the pages of the New York Times, no less.

  22. Lisa, you could be my daughter. Even though my children are doing well and do not need my help, and even though I am on a fixed income with modest retirement savings, buying things for them (nothing extravagant!) gives me pleasure twice over: selecting and purchasing the item, and giving it with a smile. Do not deny your parents this luxury. The suggestion to provide similar small extravagances to your parents is excellent - movie tickets, a nice bottle of wine, a new book, gourmet tea or coffee. It's not about money; it's all about love. And feel free to rein them in a bit if needed - "No more toys or clothing, please, just a coloring book or soap bubbles, stickers," etc.

  23. To the children who want fewer gifts. Just say thank you. And, when it’s time to gift them, give generous gift cards to their favorite....whatever is appropriate. Beauty shop, restaurant, grocery store. It will help and be appreciated.

  24. As a grandparent it gives me a great deal of pleasure to think about the children and what might appeal to them in the way of small surprises, or even clothing I might see. If my children might want to do something for me, that also is a bright spot.

  25. But if your children specifically asked you to stop, would you continue? Ignoring anyone’s expressed wishes is rude.

  26. @Daisy22 But are you in a financially precarious situation where doing this is just causing stress to your loved ones?

  27. As someone who has run a theatrical house, I have had the unfortunate obligation to remove someone from a theater because of odor on multiple occasions. In one case, a longtime subscriber had become senile and unable to notice that his lack of hygiene was causing any problems. I also had to implement a system to prevent him from returning until his hygiene improved which involved relatives, doctors, ushers, house staff, and board members. In other cases, we had walk up ticket holders in a condition that would have caused serious issues. There is usually a restriction on the ticket purchase that allows management this right. And, ticket holders rely on house management to enforce it for their general comfort and enjoyment of the show.

  28. LW 1 made an offer to her niece most likely in the midst of considerable emotion and maybe a bit of guilt. Often that kind of generosity allows us to feel so good until reality sets in. Her brother left her his small estate for a reason. She would have been better off, accepting her brother's "gift" and not try to undo whatever the father/daughter family history Now she stands to alienate her niece who hopefully will not take it too hard given her father's gesture and now her aunt's reneging.

  29. Lisa, another strategy is to quietly put into savings the amount that your parents are spending on things that you would otherwise pay for. That will allow your parents the great pleasure of giving your family gifts, but also allows you to build up a small emergency nest egg for their future use. No harm in combining different strategies into something workable, either.

  30. This is the most gracious, practical and harmonious answer. Thank you!

  31. @ms my kids helped our elderly neighbors by mowing the lawn and shoveling snow. They had no grandchildren and were happy to pay my boys even though they offered to do it for free. So we always put the money toward their college funds. The neighbors were like family to us and they were happy to help with the college expenses.

  32. B.'s could have her brother's estate and pass it too by putting the assets in an irrevocable trust with carefully designed access rules. The trust rules could allow B. to tap the trust under certain conditions, but the niece would named "remainderman", getting the assets on B's death. The design of the trust could be such that B. could even exhaust the assets in specific circumstances should that become necessary. Of course setting up and maintaining a custom legal entity has costs. This might solve the hurt feelings problem.

  33. @Jason There's not that much money.

  34. I'm very sad for the daughter. I agree with a number of comments here that the LW1 should share at least SOME of the inheritance, regardless of the circumstances. She promised, made a commitment, and now is reneging on the commitment. It's clear by her statements that she made the commitment out of feelings of discomfort and guilt that the father would fail to leave his child anything and instead give it to his sister. The daughter was abandoned by her father and now abandoned by her aunt. Wow! I would feel so alone and so distrustful if this happened to me. What's the point of having a so-called family when those family members actually may be more insensitive and self-serving than friends or acquaintances? Again, even a small amount of money is symbolic of a desire to provide the daughter emotional support.

  35. @Paul You say that the daughter was abandoned by her father. I saw nothing in the article that said why he excluded her from the estate. Isn’t it also likely that she had cut him off from her life years before? Under such circumstances, he would have had no moral obligation to give her anything.

  36. @Paul why must you assume the worst in people?

  37. @Paul It sounds like people are reacting emotionally instead of logically. It is logical for the aunt to care for her husband and herself. People emotionally think that if they were in the daughter's shoes they would want something. Don't be greedy.

  38. I cannot imagine the stress LW1 must be dealing with in connection with her husband’s cancer, looming financial hardships, and the awkwardness of the situation surrounding her promise to her niece. With that said, I share others’ concern that breaking the promise she made, even under such unusual circumstances, is a serious and questionably ethical thing to do. The niece, who didn’t write in asking for advice but is still a living, breathing human being, deserves for all of us to consider her own situation and feelings as well. It seems to me that having her aunt break the promise to her under such charged circumstances (death of a parent etc) is very likely to cause the niece significant emotional harm and distress, and may cause irreparable damage to the relationship between the two. I therefore suggest a compromise: the aunt should modify the amount she will be giving the niece, reducing it not to zero but to something that’s still reasonable and sends the niece a credible signal that she is taking her obligations seriously and is willing to make personal sacrifices and not just cite her own hardships as a reason to completely ignore her earlier promise. It seems to me that the niece would be much more understanding and forgiving of such a move than a full rescinding of the promise. If she is truly doing well financially, she may even offer to voluntarily forego the funds. But that’s completely up to her.

  39. For starters – and speaking as a lawyer – LW1's oral promise is not the variety for which they'd be held legally liable even in locales where such affirmations are often binding. "Changed circumstances" are more than sufficient grounds for undoing a generalized oral contract, and needing money for treating a spouse's unexpected cancer diagnosis is about as textbook an example as it gets. The part we don't know here is why LW1's brother disinherited his only child in the first place – and LW1 may not know the answer, either. Was it a good idea to ignore the brother's own wishes in the first place and grant a bequest to his daughter that he didn't want her to have? Regardless, any niece that would "hate an aunt or uncle forever" for reneging on a bequest that's necessitated by a spouse's cancer diagnosis arguably doesn't merit the bequest in the first place – in particular if they're doing well financially & have no acute need for the funds.

  40. @Jack Frost Husband's pancreatic cancer > niece's hurt feelings.

  41. Who hurt you in law school? There’s nothing in Jeff’s post that’s remotely weasel-like—if anything, he’s sympathizing with the fact the aunt has a sick husband and needs the funds for medical bills—Jeff never said to be a jerk to the daughter. And he pretty much agreed with the advice given. If he’s providing his legal two cents, it’s because it came up in the response. You’re also assuming the daughter felt rejected and hurt—we don’t know that. Maybe the daughter and dad were estranged. Maybe the daughter is a horrible person or someone who would waste the money, and her dad knew that. All we know that the aunt has a husband with cancer and needs money to pay for his medical care—lacking other information, having her keep the entire estate for herself seems like the most compassionate thing.

  42. @Jack Frost The *niece* is not human if she would insist on receiving money never intended for her than needs to be used to fund treatment for a deadly disease. (Maybe this is why Dad didn't leave it to her in the first place, although to be fair we don't know what she's like or what her reaction would be. But the letter writer's concern that the niece will be mortally offended by the situation suggests that she's a bit of a selfish jerk.). Jeff's advice is spot on, both legally AND morally.

  43. Management usually does its best to make all of its audiences comfortable, so they will likely help in some way if there’s an especially terrible odor problem. So many of us are affected by strong scents! I think it would be great if people stopped wearing perfume to the theatre altogether. If you are worried about your offending body odor, wear baby powder.

  44. @Karen "If you are worried about your offending body odor, wear baby powder." Seriously? All the baby powder on Earth isn't going to mask weapons-grade body odor.

  45. To Lisa: Many people write in with this conundrum and I read great advice in the comments years ago. Ask the parents for experiences that they can facilitate, not things, as you want your kids to value the time spent with them (the grandparents). It's a great way to allow grandparents to develop a healthier relationship with grandkids while still letting them spoil their babies.

  46. The last line of this column is really snarky. I think the LW knows the difference between fragrance and body odor.

  47. Why is it important what generation the odiferous people belonged to? :)

  48. @Alyce, maybe the writer said “Gen X” because they don’t want to admit they are middle aged (as were the smelly seat mates). Ha!

  49. @Alyce my guess here is that the letter writer has encountered an aversion to deodorants, on the grounds of being natural or avoiding chemicals or something, on the part of some younger people adopting a hipster style. In any case I've definitely run into this. In my profession I meet with people individually in a smallish office. I've been doing this for 30 years or so, and just in the last 3 or 4 years I've had to use a (totally natural!) spray of some kind to freshen the air following the visits of the occasional person.

  50. I disagree. To leave nothing to a child is terrible, unless that child has no need for the resources, or perhaps had received a distribution prior to her father's death. Also, when you say small, what do you mean- less than $10,000- in which case 5 or 10 won't make much difference to you in your financial needs. Finally- assuming this is a windfall (even small) that you did not anticipate, you will still have 50% more than you originally had, prior to his death.

  51. There's not really enough information to provide adequate judgement. Was the brother's death untimely? Did he have time to update his will? Was the death expensive? Who paid? Did he have life insurance? Who was the beneficiary? We understand B's unfortunate circumstance. However, it seems as though she is looking for justification to do something she knows to be morally wrong. You made a promise. You can appeal to your niece for compassion and financial assistance. Withholding the full estate though is disgusting and perhaps contractually illegal. And anyway, imagine if the situation were reversed. What if your niece became dangerously ill and your husband were still healthy? Would you concede to give your niece the full amount out of sheer generosity? By the sounds of things, I highly doubt it. I'm sorry about your husband but you don't really have the space morally or legally to deny your niece everything.

  52. @Andy - I disagree. I’m not a lawyer so I can’t talk about the legal aspect (and Philip Galanes did mention that there’s a possibility that breaking that oral contract is legal). I think that since the niece has her own money, and in view of the drastically altered and very scary life situation of the OP, it is morally right for the OP to keep the money her brother bequeathed her. If I were the niece, I’d understand and even want my aunt and uncle to use all the money.

  53. @A Dot We don't know that the niece is well off. We know she appears to be, according to the aunt, who is justifying going back on her word. For all we know the niece is drowning in debt.

  54. Anyone else shaking their head at the thought that one needs to specify "gin martini" or is it just me?

  55. @Di Right! Remember the days when there was NO martini but a gin martini!! And oh, how good it is!!

  56. @Di Oh YES! These days if a bartender puts anything in a martini glass it's called a martini. I had someone tell me that James Bond liked vodka martinis to which I replied that, well, you do know that James Bond never really existed, right?

  57. LW3: Why that snarky comment (in the answer) about perfume? This situation has happened to me and it wasn't perfume. Even if it were perfume, that's still awful and you can ask to be reseated.

  58. LW1 If your niece had inherited the entire estate, would she have helped you in your hour of need? You know the answer so let it guide you.

  59. I am a little surprised that nobody raised the question of why the brother did not leave any of his estate to his daughter. It was certainly an unusual decision. The most likely reasons are that she was a drug addict or completely cut him out of his life.

  60. @luxembourg - Perhaps the Brother already gave daughter what he wanted to give her, say a Medical degree or gifts each year, and thought Sibling would need the money.

  61. @luxembourg- Any time I (or my siblings) disagreed with my bullying, uncompromising, vindictive father, he would threaten to cut me out of his will and not see me (or his grandchildren) I got the worst of it, but luckily for me my siblings said they would give me a share of theirs if I was truly cut out of the will. Let's be fair here!

  62. The Times once had a column titled "The Ethicist". I truly hope this column has not replaced it. In the first scenario, a woman inherited her brother's estate. She offered to give her niece, her brother's daughter, half since she had been disowned. The woman was under no obligation, either legal or moral, to share the estate. (The brother's decision seems suspect). However, once the woman promises the niece, she is obligated to share even if the circumstances have changed.

  63. @Mike The Ethicist runs weekly in the Times. Just search "ethicist."

  64. @Mike "The Ethicist" is in the Magazine Section if you are looking for it.

  65. @Mike The Ethicist still exists...the author is Kwane Anthony Appiah (an NYU philosophy professor). I'm sure you can find "Appiah" through the NYT search function.

  66. I’m sorry but the advise to LW 2 was very mean to the bartender who is trying to their best job. If this is truly serious, the patron should walk up to the bar and order their drink there. Or catch the eye of the bartender and shake their head to indicate they will be ordering a different drink. As well, you might mix it up and sit somewhere different. Most people want to be remembered and most people would see that treatment as a sign of their special status. Wanting to be incognito is rare and only invites attention: joking. But you could tell the bartender that.

  67. @Morgan I wonder if you misread. Presumably the patron WILL be walking up to the bar to say "I’d like to try something different tonight, please.” How is that very mean?

  68. My mom used to say, about money that was supposedly coming her way, "... when the check clears." As in, "I'll believe it when the check clears." Or, don't count on it until the check clears. Mentioned? Promised? Bonus awarded? Ha! She had seen money clawed back between the time the check hit and when it cleared! It was good advice. Money coming? Believe it when the check clears!

  69. LW2: If your parents’ retirement is on “shaky ground” maybe that’s the conversation you need to have with them. If you’re in your 30s they may be in their 60s or 70s, with plenty of years left. The biggest issue here may not be presents, but how your parents are ensuring they are financially secure for the next 20 years.

  70. Regarding the niece, I would explain the unfortunate circumstances and ask her to help you determine what is best. It’s possible she will say “keep it, you need it more than me”.

  71. @Bello And if you're not comfortable with her answer the issue has only become worse.

  72. @Bello That's best, I think. Given the opportunity to have some say and to be generous could go a long way toward soothing hurt feelings.

  73. Good answers to all. A couple of the situations resonated with me. My late mother was always buying things, and paying for expensive outings, for my siblings and their spouses and kids. I watched some off those family members really take advantage of her over that. It even extended to “loans” of many thousands of dollars that were never paid. None of my siblings were financially needy. Just greedy and manipulative. It hurt to see this going on. It would have been a kindness to her to refuse her gifts, but they kept taking. (I always paid my own way, FWIW.) The estate pickle also strikes home. I had to handle a family estate, and let’s just say that my family disappointed me. I can see how the daughter would be hurt to be left out of her father’s will. But if she is financially stable, and is a good person, she should see that her aunt (?) and uncle need the money more than she. If I were in her shoes, I would not accept the portion offered anyway. Why would she want money her father did not intend for her? As for the theater. I once demanded and received a refund for a musical performance that was too amplified for my comfort. If you pay for an experience, and circumstances are such that you cannot enjoy (or endure) that experience, you should be accommodated.

  74. My advice to the B. is to do a little math and consider giving some fraction to the daughter, a fraction chosen with care. The decision need not be a zero-or-half binary.

  75. No one should ever rely upon an unenforceable promise from anyone to " split " an inheritance out of the overwhelming goodness of their heart. That is why there are will, lawyers, trusts, notaries, certified copies, originals, etc. That said a promise was uttered. Circumstances have changed. I agree with those who suggest : give less than half and explain why, or/and put something in writing for after your own death and hope that your executor is more reliable. I hope the husband's treatment goes well. I'm startled to hear about the stinky people at the theatre. I have been so overwhelmed by perfumes and body lotions applied right there and then at a lecture that I have had to leave-coughing. What gets into people ?

  76. Wouldn't the writer of the stinky seatmates have specified perfume? Money does not buy couth nor does the outward signs of affluence guarantee that to be the case. But, I like the suggestion and the comment here that suggested a discussion with management.

  77. I had to chuckle at the bartender story. It reminded me of the mistake I made on a 27-night cruise. The first night I ordered decaf coffee, something I rarely do in banquet settings for fear that the server will just grab the closest pot, decaffeinated or not. But with a nice pastry staring up at me, I took a chance. Bad idea -- I had made it into the server's profile of me (whether written or remembered), and every dinner for 26 nights, I had to wave off the server as he raced over to fill my coffee cup. I am in full agreement with the writer that some nights a Scottish Ale can hit the spot, but the next night a margarita might sound better.

  78. Regarding the estate money story, many people are assuming that the daughter is hurt about the money. Maybe she is, maybe she isn't. Maybe she has so much money of her own that she doesn't care. Maybe she and her loving father agreed together that the money should be given to her aunt (uncle?). Maybe there were hard feelings between the father and daughter and she wants nothing to do with his money. We don't know.

  79. @Tina WE don't, but it's safe to assume the aunt does.

  80. @Tina Precisely! Nowhere does the daughter mention being "hurt" by the exclusion & indeed, she and her father may have discussed the issue. He may have given her a significant portion of his estate throughout his lifetime, knew she's doing well financially, & knew she would be the beneficiary of maternal or other estates. Nothing indicates that the two were estranged. LW1's meddling w/her brother's final wishes is what caused the problem & her embarrassment at having to approach the daughter re the changed circumstances is what prompted the letter.

  81. An express oral contract, like any contract, requires consideration. B promised to give half the estate to her niece, but there seems to be no evidence of the niece being required to give any consideration in exchange. There also seems to be no evidence of what the law calls “detrimental reliance” which can be a factor in contracts cases. Therefore B’s statement in the eyes of the law is a mere unenforceable promise. Of course, what the law tells us is not always what’s fair or what’s moral. Reasonable minds can differ on that point, but I like your advice.

  82. Sit them down one quiet evening and say: “It’s largely thanks to you and your unwavering support that I’m in such good financial condition for my age. I hope you know that. And I think it’s time we put our relationship on more equal footing.” Then, depending on your means (and inclination), buy them something you know they will appreciate: new winter coats, a gorgeous filet mignon from the butcher or a sunny weekend in Coral Gables. No need to become a spendthrift. Just try a loving gesture. It may wake them up to your well-founded gratitude and the true financial picture here. That is the sweetest and wisest of advice from Mr G.

  83. I did something similar with my parents without verbally stating it. We’d go out for dinner and I would pay for the meal. I didn’t embarrass my Father, just quietly handed my card to the waiter when I claimed to need to use the restroom. When my Father protested after he realized what happened I told him he had done enough for me. Now it was my turn. Or I’d buy them an expensive item that they could use but would never pay that much themselves. They continued to pay for things but got over feeling that as parents they had to spend their money on me.

  84. Gin martinis!! Yes!!

  85. What if it was stinky perfume. In my book, all perfume stinks and should be outlawed in public places like theaters and planes. It is nauseating to sit near a person who thinks they smell wonderful when the rest of us are gagging from the stench. Both sexes are guilty.

  86. @S.L. And some of us are allergic to perfume!

  87. Inheritances are weird. A way of handing off money to people who did nothing to earn it, and for preserving and entrenching wildly unequal wealth. I think there should be a 100% inheritance tax, after allowing each younger surviving family member a modest amount, enough to get a good solid start in life. Call it the "Earn Your Own Damned Living" tax, and put all those tax revenues into a social safety net for everyone. (And yes, I would be very negatively affected by such a law. But it's the right way forward.)

  88. I think you shouldn’t be allowed to buy that new car you want. The one you have is perfectly serviceable. The money you would have spent should go to the poor. Ridiculous? No more so than what you wrote. People pay taxes; I’m all for tax reform, but after someone’s paid their taxes it’s absolutely none of my business what they do with their money.

  89. recently at a very expensive play in NY I sat next to a youngish man who had the worst breath I've ever smelled. Every time he brayed with laughter it was unbearable.I only survived by holding my heavy scarf up to my nose, and when he stood up to leave i tapped him on the shoulder and said as politely as I could "Excuse me, but you really need to see someone about your breath." He stared at me, and I said "Yes, really." His wife was beside him, and I can't imagine how she lives with that. Was I justified?

  90. I don’t think it was appropriate. For all you know, the man is grappling with a serious medical condition that causes bad breath and you ruined a night out. I would leave it to family and friends who will tell him, especially if the problem isn’t due to a medical condition.

  91. @J. So?

  92. About that estate: It’s a windfall that LW wasn’t counting on. Let’s say for sake of argument it was $50,000. She promised her niece $25,000, but then things changed, and LW could really use that $25,000. But had the inheritence been only $25,000, she would have wanted the 12,500 she promised away. In the interest of fairness and long-term family love, LW should behave as if the windfall were $25,000, because after she made that commitment, that’s what it really was. In a few years, it won’t matter how much she inherited from her brother, but it will matter how she treated her niece.

  93. @Linda 64 With her husband suffering from pancreatic cancer, in a few years (probably sooner) it will matter quite a lot how much she inherited from her brother. I agree with Philip's advice; circumstances change, and B's need for the money is much, much greater than her niece's.

  94. Why not just tell the bartender, with a smile, that part of the pleasure for you of going for a drink is the part where you order it? what's wrong with the direct approach?

  95. It appears the will was written prior to the daughter’s birth and never changed. Individuals should react with the golden rule, simple and easy. What would you prefer if the roles were reversed.

  96. Re: the estate issue, the aunt should remember that anything she were to give her niece above $15,000 is a taxable gift. I agree with the suggestion that the aunt include the niece, if possible, in her own will. One other possibility: did the deceased leave any material goods to the aunt that have value or sentimentally that she could gift her niece instead?

  97. That is inaccurate. Anything above $15,000 requires a gift tax return be filed by the giver. It does not create a tax liability. If the aunt doesn’t want to file, she could give her niece $15k annually till it amounts to 1/2 the estate. I believe the aunt should keep her word.

  98. @EFaro I believe the aunt should keep her word also. I didn't like that advice. She's already felt the sting of being disinherited. Now the aunt is keeping everything? I'm sorry her circumstances have changed, but give the niece 1/4 of the estate and tell her you will work toward giving her the other 1/4 as soon as you can.

  99. @J. The lifetime exclusion from gift/estate tax is $11 million, thanks to the GOP.

  100. I like the advice to the daughter who doesn’t want her parents spending their money on her. When my in-laws were still alive, we hated the way my husband’s siblings always let their parents pay for everything and we struggled to pick up the check as often as we could. Now my own kids are grown, I can’t get out of the habit of paying and I understand my in-laws better. It just seems so wrong for my kids to pay! I almost hyperventilated letting my girls pay for all of our pedicures at Christmas, but forced myself to let them. Be gentle, LW. You’ll understand soon enough.

  101. @S Turner Yes, it's important to be sensitive to this. My in laws always pay when we come out to see them even though my husband and I are in our 40s and doing fine. It's a delicate balance. This year I finally got the guts to Uber everywhere (native NYer, I don't drive and feel beholden to everyone else in Florida to drive me). MIL didn't want me to spend the money on Uber but when I explained it as an issue of autonomy she let it go. And when it bought more time with me and my husband because nobody had to drive, she totally appreciated it!

  102. @S Turner Whenever my husband tried to treat his parents, his father replied: "I make more than you do." It hurt. Perhaps it was meant to.

  103. @S Turner Your children are demonstrating their financial independence by trying to pay for things and to treat you as a thank you for all you have done for them. Allow them to do so! Then tell them how proud you are that they are financially stable and how much you appreciate their thoughtfulness in picking up the tab. For parents to insist on paying for adult children may have the effect of infantilizing their adult children.

  104. Your advice to the theater attendees was spot on. I volunteer as an usher at a Broadway forum and we assist our patrons if for some reason their seats are unsatisfactory by directing them to the box office. Often they are given seats that are comparable or better than their original seats. We want all of our patrons to be comfortable and enjoy the theater experience.

  105. A will needn’t be fair. The executor of the will’s job is follow the directives of the deceased. The intention to right some perceived wrong is admirable, but it contravenes the desires of the estate. Just tell the truth, “your father left it to me, I wanted to share but find I can’t.” You will learn something about each other in the process.

  106. Unless the brother expressly disinherited his daughter, she has a right to some of his estate. I think the daughter should hire a lawyer.

  107. @Brigid McAvey The law varies from state to state. Generally, it's a spouse, not the children, who are protected from disinheritance.

  108. The usual Please, let’s start with the Bartender is trying to show you he loves your business, he remembers you. But, yes please tell the bartender that as much as you appreciate the effort, sometimes I still what to have to ask for it like everyone else. Seriously though, say - “Joe, this is not what I need right now, can I get a {drink name} instead if it’s not too much trouble. I guarantee you he is going to replace that drink for you. And no he is not going to get mad! ”Joe loves your business”

  109. SocialQ is off-base on Lisa, "Thank You But Please Stop." There is absolutely no need for Lisa's guilt trip, no need for her to go to Rodeo Drive and pick out for her parents the most expensive gifts she can find, and no need for her to conduct a mini-financial planning seminar with them. Her parents give gifts to Lisa and her children because it gives them pleasure. Lisa should not play the Grinch and deprive them of that pleasure. Lisa should come to a lump sum figure she is comfortable with and just give her parents a check for that amount. No explanations needed other than Lisa's expression of gratitude that she is doing well and wants to share some of that with them.

  110. In the end our word and integrity (or lack of) is all we are left with. Give the money - you made a promise.

  111. Better yet, when you're chatting with the bartender over your fav drink say, "Joe, this is a perfect G&T...Maybe next time I'll try something different. Don't mix til I decide."

  112. Honesty is the best policy. Have lunch with the niece and tell her how your financial circumstances have changed and that you will, regrettably, be unable to split the estate as you had previously hoped to do. Apologize. Consider alternatives- maybe you could buy a life insurance policy with the neice as the beneficiary.

  113. Unquestionably at least 1/2 of the estate should go to the daughter regardless of the financial circumstances that have now arisen. Shutting out his daughter was cruel, mean-spirited and wrong at every level. Your niece was deeply hurt by the death of her father and equally hurt by being left out of his will regardless of the reason. Now you claim that your husband is gravely ill and you need the full amount of the estate funds and your previous promise and hope for doing justice has been nullified. Frankly, what you are thinking of doing is beastly. And cruel. I understand that you believe you should take the entire estate. It's a small estate you say and that is supposed to make it less painful for your niece. That's not the way it works. You have just added yourself to list of people that have betrayed her. You're as mean spirited and evil minded as your brother who left the estate to you while cutting out his daughter. There is no way to tell your niece so that she will not hate you forever. She will. And rightfully so. You are disgraceful. You have no right to land a second blow to your niece. You have every obligation to fulfill your promise. Anything less is simply greed and cruelty. By the way, who are you to say that your niece is doing well financially and has many years ahead to recover? What a monster you are! I don't believe that your decision is reasonable or excusable. You made a commitment to your niece to right a wrong done by her father. Keep it.

  114. Ushering, I once escorted to her single seat at a concert a person w whom I was slightly acquainted. She REEKED of nicotine and I often wondered about who ended up sitting adjacent to her, or what I would have done had I had that seat. Smokers, take notice please.....

  115. @arjay I got on the train with someone who smelled so bad of nicotine that I literally could not breathe. I had to just get up and stagger to another seat rows and rows away. She was nicely dressed and it was first thing in the morning. I can't imagine having to work with her.

  116. As to the theater goers, if this ever happens again, go directly to the manager of the theater and tell them of the situation. This happened to us and management could not have been nicer. They actually set us up with folding chairs nearer to the stage, as it was a one-time only, sold out performance. Steve Martin and Martin Short, btw - so fabulous. It’s a dreadful situation, but can certainly be remedied. We don’t live in the pre-deodorant 1700’s where people bathed once a year! Good grief!

  117. @Kathryn, notice, though, that the letter writer does not mention what the stink was. I was once stuck in a plane (in Europe) with an entire team of young men who were not wearing deodorant. No recourse there. But I have also been seated next to men who wore too much bad cologne, and next to people who smelled of onions and garlic. And then there are the smokers. Everyone’s tolerance is different. Back in my university years I know a fellow job had a kidney issue that made him smell like stale urine. Sometimes it cannot be helped.

  118. @Passion for Peaches - well, that may be. But I still think you have a right to ask to be moved. People are often too timid. There will be a movie theater with 300 patrons and it can be so hot that you cannot breathe. I’m the one that goes and gets the manager to come and assess the temperature. They always get some fresh air into the theater. One time, a man literally stripped down to his undershirt; it was that hot! But, he never thought to go get someone to make things right!

  119. @Kathryn Some people have metabolisms or body flora that overcome all deodorants, twice a dayshowering, etc. Also some illnesses might upset your odor balance. Maybe one of the two was seriously ill and this was a bit of a last hurrah for them. don't assume they didn't shower immediately before the performance.... Obviously it's deeply unpleasant to smell certain kinds of body odors, but please let's not make it an occasion for self-righteous moral judgment.

  120. I laughed at the body odor question. Nope, it wasn't perfume! I attended a showing of They Shall Not Grow Old, the wonderful Peter Jackson WWI documentary, during its very limited release in theaters last year. The man in front of me smelled so bad I wanted to leave. But the film was only showing for a couple of nights, and they were sold out. It ruined what was otherwise a fantastic film. I know people can't really smell themselves, but come on.

  121. I guess that it is not surprising in this day and age that people don’t have good health insurance that would fully or mostly cover cancer treatment. The gig economy, the decimation of unions, etc. There are lots of good reasons. But what is truly surprising is that a lot of people simply refuse to get coverage believing It their constitutional right not to, and therefore don’t just to prove the point. All those Republican Senators and Congressmen have Triple Grade A Gold Plated Platinum Roll Royce health insurance even though they daily denounce the evils of the ACA. Some fools actually heed their words.

  122. A friend of mine is married to a woman who is battling cancer. Both have Medicare and Supplemental policy. The copay for her cancer drug ( one pill a day) is $2000. per month. That’s right—the copay is that high. And it’s not an unusual situation. The problem isn’t that people don’t have insurance. It’s the drug companies that can charge exorbitant prices because they can.

  123. @Mickey Kronley It's all part and parcel of the same issue. Go Fund Me has become the new health insurance. Shameful.

  124. @Mickey Kronley Cancer can be a financially devastating diagnosis, even for those with insurance. The co-pays are high; drugs are expensive. There is a term for it in oncology: financial toxicity.