Dear Jeanne & Leonard:
My niece and her husband recently had their first baby. They both have good jobs, but their credit isn’t good, and occasionally they’ve been behind on their bills. To help them save on day care when “Samantha” returned to work, my husband and I have been watching the baby three days a week (we’re retired). We were enjoying taking some of the financial pressure off this nice young couple. But then they drove up in an expensive new SUV.
What bothers us most is that Samantha and her husband already had paid-for cars that ran just fine. Now they have a $400-a-month car payment, and we feel like our free baby-sitting is subsidizing the purchase of a vehicle they were foolish to buy. What should we do? So you know, they say they “need the new SUV for the baby.”
— Alice & Ted, San Antonio
Dear Alice & Ted:
What? You expected them to raise a child without an SUV?
Seriously, we empathize with your resentment. But no doubt your offer to baby-sit didn’t include the condition that your niece and her husband refrain from buying a new car. And since the expectation of free baby-sitting probably played a role in their decision to saddle themselves with large car payments, you shouldn’t pull the rug out from under them by abruptly resigning. Give them some time — say, six months. If after that you remain unhappy with the unintended-by-you consequences of the arrangement, you’re free to bow out. Six months of free baby-sitting is a very generous gift, and your niece cannot reasonably expect to have the benefit of your services indefinitely. In the meantime, let’s hope they don’t decide that the baby needs a bigger house.
Dear Jeanne & Leonard:
A while back, our parents deeded over to my two siblings and me a rental house on the Monterey Peninsula and the family cabin in the Sierras. My youngest sibling now has announced that he’s having financial difficulties, meaning my brother and I will have to buy him out of one or both properties. What’s the usual way to establish the price for a property in this kind of situation? Should we use an estimate of the property’s current value, or the price at the time the property was gifted to us, or something else?
— Wondering, San Francisco Bay Area
There is no limit to the number of methods families have used — some reasonable, many ill-considered — to establish the value of jointly owned property. Most commonly and most sensibly, though, they either hire an appraiser or consult with several real estate agents to estimate the current value. That’s right, use the current value of your properties. After all, that’s what your sibling owns an interest in: the properties today.
Postscript to readers Mardi & Pete in Tucson: A hat tip to you for refusing to return to a favorite restaurant after it tried to add a $2 charge for “rocks” onto your bar tab. What won’t they think of next?