Skip to main content
damage control

The question

My husband and I have no children, but have six nephews and two nieces, all in their 20s. I recently came into an inheritance and we would like to help them now rather than waiting. Some of them are in a better place financially while some have greater needs. For example, one nephew has a girl with developmental issues that could benefit from extra help, but that costs money that they do not have. My husband thinks we should dole it out equally, but I think we should give according to need. What should we do?

The answer

Why not give it all to a deserving charity like The Dave Eddie Fund?

Your generous donation would be lifting an advice columnist out of a morass of debt, and free his mind from thoughts of the mortgage, how he’s going to pay the endless stream of bills people keep sending him and what the mechanic is going to charge for the strange rattling noise his 12-year-old car has recently begun to emit.

Kidding aside, your husband has a point: This is a potential minefield, which sucks when you think about it. Here you are poised to hand over free money to your family, and your primary thought is whether it’s just going to cause discord, disharmony, ugly scenes and rifts.

But dropping a chunk of money into a family can be like dropping a nice, juicy fish into a hole filled with feral cats: Everyone begins to scratch, claw, hiss at and bite each other (metaphorically, mostly, though I wouldn’t be surprised if sometimes it happens literally).

The difference here is: You’re still alive. Dead people are lucky, in one way – they don’t have to deal with all the familial squabbling and infighting their wills cause.

But you do. In that context I suppose my advice will be counterintuitive, but I agree with you and not your husband: I don’t think you should distribute your funds evenly.

Counterintuitive, perhaps, as I say. My in-laws, for example, are always ultrascrupulous about disbursing all monetary gifts equally, down to the penny, among their offspring, regardless of income level or needs.

Unless – and this is an important caveat – an emergency or dire situation arises. Then they will dispense (usually) a one-time-only cash gift to the distressed party.

Strikes me your case contains what amounts to a fairly dire situation: One of your nieces/nephews has a child with developmental issues and can’t afford to address those issues.

So apply the Marxian credo here: “To each according to his needs; from each according to his means.” (Capitalist version: “To each according to his greed; from each according to his spleen.”)

And give more to your niece or nephew with the child with developmental issues.

If one of the others squawks, patiently explain you made that choice because [name of niece or nephew with developmentally challenged child] needs money for the costs of care, therapy and all the other expenses facing them – and they can’t afford it.

Your other nieces and nephews would have to have hearts of stone, seems to me, to continue squawking and squabbling over what is after all your money following that statement.

Make the announcement before the fact. Don’t drop this money-bomb without warning.

Call a family meeting, ideally in person – though I suppose a Zoom “get together” would suffice if there are coronavirus-related concerns.

If it somehow leads to a rift or a perma-huff among one of the others – well, then they are unworthy of your largesse.

But I predict that won’t happen. I can only guess you’re holding back a fair amount of money after this round of cash gifts.

And they’ll have to be on their best behaviour if they want to get their mitts on that.

Are you in a sticky situation? Send your dilemmas to Please keep your submissions to 150 words and include a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.

Sign up for the weekly Parenting & Relationships newsletter for news and advice to help you be a better parent, partner, friend, family member or colleague.