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Family Finances

When Your Brother is a Real Deadbeat

Should you settle a deceased relative's unpaid debts?

My unmarried brother died recently at 28. Everyone in our family (which is fairly wealthy) knew he was irresponsible with money. Now we find that he left behind a lot of debts -- including money owed to some close friends -- with almost no assets to repay them. Should my parents and I try to settle these accounts?

No one has a legal obligation to pay the personal debts of a deceased relative. But it could be both ethical and smart for your family to do so, to protect its good name.

And besides, it's possible that your parents feel some moral responsibility, whether it is warranted or not, for your late brother's irresponsibility. Parents are like that.

A tempting offer

I recently had some house painting done by a local firm that is pretty expensive. One of its best painters -- still employed there -- later contacted me and offered to do additional work at my house, on his own, for a much lower hourly rate. Although I'm tempted, I'm not sure how I should respond.


This painter is violating his obligation to his employer, and you should tell him you won't be a party to it. But if he resigns from the company and starts working for himself, you are then free to do business with him -- if, in your opinion, his low price outweighs his low ethics.

Have a money-and-ethics question you'd like answered in this column? Write editor in chief Knight Kiplinger at