Dear Jeanne and Leonard: My husband has been estranged from his mother for two years. She and his brother live together in the family home, and the two of them have quite an expensive lifestyle (for example, they take luxury vacations all over the world). A lot of this is paid for by the reverse mortgage my mother-in-law took out on her house a few years ago. If she winds up going into debt, is there any way it could become my husband's responsibility? We're especially concerned because we have no control over his mother's spending.
Dear Marie: Unless you've left something out, no, your husband is unlikely to be liable for his mother's debts. But that doesn't mean you should stop worrying. What does your husband plan to do if his mother runs out of money? Would he turn his back on her? Ignoring an elderly parent who's facing bankruptcy is serious business, no matter how long the parent and child may have been estranged. So try not to let it come to that. It's time for your husband to speak to his brother -- with whom he apparently is in touch and who seems to be part of the problem -- about how to get their mother to stop overspending.
Dear Jeanne and Leonard: My daughter is selling candy bars to raise money to buy new uniforms for the middle-school band. Since "Abigail" is very busy and also a little shy, I got in touch with our friends and neighbors and asked if they'd like to buy the candy bars. Some did, some didn't and either way was fine with me. But to my surprise and dismay, one neighbor said he only buys things like this if the child actually does the selling. Why would he feel that way? After all, the money goes to the band whether or not I help Abigail sell the candy. I think my neighbor just wanted an excuse not to buy. What do you think?
Dear Laura P: We think your daughter's not raising money for her middle-school band. You are. If the point of the candy-bar campaign is simply to pay for new uniforms, maybe that's OK. But if the point is to teach kids the importance of responsibility-taking and the virtues of teamwork, not to mention the idea that money doesn't grow on trees, then your neighbor's position makes sense. You know the guy; we don't. But we can believe he's principled, not a piker.
Dear Jeanne and Leonard: My cousin and I own a house together (it was our grandfather's). The two of us don't get along, and we don't want to continue co-owning the house. He offered to buy my half, but I declined because I'd like the house for myself. However, when I offered to buy him out, he said he wants $500,000 for his share, which is close to the full market value of the place. Now he's trying to pressure me into accepting his price by refusing to pay maintenance expenses. What should I do?
Upstate New York
Dear K.G.: Give up on owning this house. We're not kidding. Continuing to share ownership with a would-be blackmailer whom you already dislike is a recipe for disaster. Plus, unless you're rolling in dough and truly love the house, grossly overpaying your cousin for his share would be foolish. So offer to sell him your half for the same price he set for his: $500,000. And if that starting point doesn't get you to a number you both agree on, have a lawyer help you force the sale of the home. Unless you thrive on discord, you won't regret it.
Jeanne Fleming and Leonard Schwarz are Palo Alto-based columnists and authors. Please email your questions about money and relationships to Questions@MoneyManners.net.