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Caregiving

Should You Honor Mom's Last Wishes?

Knight Kiplinger answers questions about giving to charity after a parent dies and what you need to reveal about your house to prospective buyers.

My mother died recently, and the executor of her estate (one of my siblings) has been approached by three charities that say she made charitable pledges to them -- verbally, but not in writing -- shortly before she died.

My siblings and I aren't enthusiastic about these particular charities, and we'd rather give a similar amount of our late mother's resources to nonprofits we think are more constructive in our community. But we know that Mom donated to these three charities in the past, even if there is no proof of these pledges. What should we do?

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Written pledges made before death become a valid claim against the estate. Verbal pledges don't have that legal weight. You could refuse to honor them, but you'd risk litigation.

More to the ethical point: Should you substitute your own charitable preferences for your mother's apparent wishes? I don't think so.

Do my wife and I have to tell the contract purchasers of our home about every one of its defects, some of which are minor and weren't spotted by their home inspector?

To assess your legal obligation, consult a real estate attorney and your sales agent; it can be tricky. I believe it is ethical and courteous to tell the buyers about your home's idiosyncrasies so that they'll know how to deal with them as new owners.

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

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