When in doubt err towards generosity

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Dear Carolyn • My mother passed away a few months ago. She was 98 and lived a full, rich life, so this is not about grief; it is about ethical distribution of money. She and my only sibling were on the outs for the past 25 years. Before she passed she verbally instructed me that my sibling was to get nothing (sib was apprised of this many years ago), and that I distribute money to the grandchildren. My mother had almost no relationship with my sibling's two children, and it was her intention that by leaving some money for them they would remember her. But she left no detailed instructions. After paying the bills, I distributed her savings among the four grandchildren. I sent a nice note with the checks to my sibling's children saying their grandmother wanted them to have this in her memory. I heard nothing back. I eventually phoned my sibling to verify that the checks were received. This brought back memories of my mother's complaints that she never received acknowledgements for birthday checks and such. Now the condominium is going to sell, and we are talking more money than the several thousand dollars I distributed from the savings account. Maybe I am being unfair but honestly I have no interest in sending my sibling's children any more money. I sense that sending them more will still not achieve my mother's goal in having them remember her. I would appreciate your insight on what to do.

In a Quandary Here

Dear Quandary • Decide how much you'd like to give your own kids, and give the other grandchildren the same ... after a self-protective consultation with an estate attorney, just in case. Your mother instructed you to give money to the grandchildren, and hoped it would secure her memory. I see the instructions as your business, but not the hope. Your concern about the kids' indifference might be valid, but I don't think, ethically, it's your place to decide whether these grandkids showed sufficient gratitude to meet your mother's definition of "remember." Yes, giving to all four grandkids equally will sting. But how long does it ever hurt when we err on the side of generosity?

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