Dear Jeanne & Leonard:
Fifteen years ago, we gave $35,000 to our older son to use as part of a down payment for a condo here in the San Francisco Bay Area. Around the same time, we gave his younger brother, who lives in Arizona where homes are less expensive, $20,000 toward a down payment for his first home.
Here’s why I’m writing: My wife’s and my wills call for our estates to be split equally between our sons. But since we want to be completely fair, we plan to revise our wills to reflect the difference in the down-payment money we gave them. Our question is, should we be adjusting our bequests based on the amounts of money we gave them? Or should we be adjusting our bequests based on how much their homes are now worth?
While our older son’s condo has more than tripled in value since he bought it, the value of our younger son’s home has increased much more modestly. In other words, the $35,000 we gave our older son enabled him to buy what has become a significantly more valuable home than the one our other child bought. How should we handle this?
— Dr. Eddie, Silicon Valley
Dear Dr. Eddie:
Forget about the current values of your children’s homes. They’re going to continue to fluctuate as long as you and your wife are alive, and you don’t want to have to change your wills every year to reflect this. Besides, their values are irrelevant.
Each of your children used the money you gave him to buy the home he wanted. Just because one of these homes proved to be a better investment than the other doesn’t mean you and your wife have to make up the difference in value to be fair.
Given your wishes, consider giving your younger son — now — an amount that compensates him for the $15,000 difference between the $35,000 you gave his brother and the $20,000 you gave him. Google “inflation adjusted dollars,” and you’ll find links to tables that will allow you to determine what amount today is equivalent to $15,000 15 years ago.
Dear Jeanne & Leonard:
I borrowed a friend’s hedge trimmer and, unfortunately, I broke it. So I bought him a new one. Must I tell my friend when I give it to him that it’s not the same hedge trimmer he lent me? I’m embarrassed about this and would prefer that my friend not know how stupid I was.
— Jack, Connecticut
You’re still going to have to explain to him why your gate looks like that.
Kidding aside, you should tell him. For one thing, you need to give him the new warranty materials (if he’s saved the old ones, they have the wrong serial numbers on them). For another, wouldn’t you like to know — just for future reference — if the person you’d lent something to had destroyed it?
You’ve done the right thing in replacing your friend’s hedge trimmer with a new one, Jack. Don’t screw it up by lying.