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Estate Planning

Who Gets Mom's Precious Heirlooms?

Knight Kiplinger answers your questions about whether a sibling should be able to claim a parent\\\'s valuables without your permission, and what to do when an employee threatens to sue.

My mother died recently, and my sister removed a few valuable items from her house, claiming that Mom had promised them to her. That might be, but there's no record of it. What should my siblings and I do?

By law, everything that belonged to your mother -- especially things of value -- should be inventoried and appraised before dispersal. If there is no record of your mother's wishes, and others in the family want the same things, the executor must negotiate a settlement among all of you -- even if by drawing straws -- to ensure that each heir gets equivalent value.

I own a small business, and I had to terminate an employee for well-documented poor performance. Now he's threatening to sue me. My lawyer says the claim is baseless and I'm likely to win. But he says paying him off will cost much less than fighting a suit. I'm tempted to take his advice. What do you think?

Ah, the classic choice between principle and pragmatism. Settling the claim would reward a bad employee and encourage others to make spurious claims. If your company were publicly owned, you might need to take the lawyer's advice. But it's your company and your money. I hope you choose the more ethical option, even if it's more expensive.

Got a money-and-ethics question you'd like answered in this column? Write editor in chief Knight Kiplinger at ethics@kiplinger.com.

See Knight Kiplinger's previous Money and Ethics column
Do I Have to Report My Fender Bender?

And read other recent articles by Knight:
Eight Keys to Financial Security
Better Options for CEO Pay
The Invisible Rich