Dear Jeanne and Leonard: Do I really have to buy dinner for my former boss? After college, I worked for two years at a small consulting firm in Los Angeles. While there, I applied to a number of MBA programs and asked my boss, as well as two of my college professors, to write letters of recommendation for me. Long story short: I was admitted to a first-tier school in the Northeast, and I'm now about to graduate. After graduation, my boyfriend and I are going out to L.A. to visit friends, and while there we will be having dinner with my old boss and his wife. My boyfriend says I need to pick up the check, but I think he's wrong. I'm sure neither of the professors who wrote recommendations for me expected a meal in return, and besides, I don't even start work until July. I don't need to buy dinner, do I?

H.H.

Southeastern Pennsylvania

Dear H.H.: Sorry, but you're no longer a starving student, no matter how long until your first paycheck. As someone about to start a job with a six-figure salary -- that being what almost all newly minted MBAs from top-tier schools receive -- you no longer get to play by the rules that apply to cash-strapped college kids. On the contrary, you're entering the world of adults, where people are expected to do more than smile and say "thank you" when someone does them a big favor, like the favor your boss did for you.


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Of course your college professors don't expect you to buy them a meal; writing letters of recommendation is part of their job. But writing letters to accompany graduate school applications is not something a private-sector employer has any obligation to do. Ironically, though, no recommendation typically counts for more in a business school application than one from someone who's supervised your work.

So when your boss wrote those letters, he helped to open a very big door for you. For that, he deserves the acknowledgment that being treated to a nice dinner represents.

Dear Jeanne and Leonard: I am the executor of my parents' estate, and I'm not sure what to do. Their trust calls for everything they owned, including the contents of their home, to be divided equally among the four children. In the home are a number of Asian artifacts, such as ivory carvings, statues, jade and the like, some of which I'm sure are quite valuable. How do I go about dividing up these items, given that they vary greatly in value and given that some of the siblings like them much more than the other siblings do?

Nelson

Greater Sacramento area

Dear Nelson: Assuming "Antiques Roadshow" doesn't make house calls, the first thing to do is have the artifacts appraised. That way, everyone will have some idea of their value.

After that, the four of you can take turns selecting the items you would like -- not just from among the Asian artifacts, but also from among your parents' furnishings, jewelry, electronic equipment, etc. (there's no reason to distribute the Asian pieces separately, especially when some of you might prefer a high-definition TV to a statue). To be fair, draw straws before each round to determine the order in which you choose.

Afraid this process could lead to some unhealthy sibling-versus-sibling gamesmanship? You can always sell the finer pieces to a dealer or at auction and divide the proceeds among the beneficiaries. While this would mean parting with your parents' treasures, selling them to a third party has the important advantage of ensuring that no sibling will feel like he or she was shortchanged by the division process.

If neither of these approaches appeals to you, remember: You are the executor. This means you probably have the authority to simply divide your parents' possessions in a manner you think is fair, doing your best to accommodate your siblings' preferences. That's what Solomon would do.

Jeanne Fleming and Leonard Schwarz are Palo Alto-based columnists and authors. Email your questions about money and relationships to Questions@MoneyManners.net.