by JEANNE FLEMING, PH.D. and LEONARD SCHWARZ
Question: My great-aunt, a well-off widow in her eighties, has no children. I’ve been encouraging my kids to see her more often and keep her up-to-date on their activities. I know she will appreciate the attention, and since she has to leave her money to somebody, it might as well be my girls. I see this as a win-win situation, but my wife’s disgusted with me. Who’s nuts, her or me?
Answer: Suppose your great-aunt were inviting your attention while concealing from you the fact that she’s leaving her money to charity? Would that be okay? Well, faking affection in order to inherit her money is equally wrong. Each misrepresentation is intended to extract something that presumably wouldn’t be given if the relative being hoodwinked knew the truth.
Encourage a loving relationship between your daughters and your great-aunt and incidentally hope she leaves your family something, and you’ve done nothing wrong. But push your kids to fawn on Auntie in order to get into her will? Sorry, but then you’ve betrayed not only her trust but the trust of your children, to whom you owe better moral guidance.
Plus remember, true motives have a way of revealing themselves. If your family’s attention to your great-aunt is insincere, don’t bet that she – and your other relatives – won’t figure it out. Then too, people with good hearts can inadvertently undermine the schemes of their calculating kin. Imagine that your great-aunt loses most of her money and turns to you – her seemingly fondest nephew – for help with her bills or maybe even for a place to live. Touché … and that’s just what the rest of your relatives will be thinking.
Questions? Email Money Magazine’s ethicists – authors of “Isn’t It Their Turn to Pick Up the Check?” (Free Press) – at FlemingandSchwarz@right-thing.net.