In the Sunday NY Times Magazine, this week's "The Ethicist" column had a question that struck me:
My beloved sister, a human rights worker in Central America, has long received financial help from our parents. I earn enough to support a comfortable lifestyle. May I ask them to make a reckoning of their aid to my sister, subtracting it from any bequest they eventually make her, so that overall, she and I receive equal amounts? — Name Withheld, Albuquerque
The ethicist's answer:
You may ask, but your parents need not comply. This is their money, not funds they hold in trust for their heirs....
However, he goes on to note that
No matter how genuinely you love your sister and esteem her work, if your parents underwrite her over the years, it’s hard not to ask why you should seem to subsidize her life choices. You might also consider that if your parents develop protracted illnesses and need financial help, it will fall to you, not your sister, to assist them.
That rang a bell with me! As I noted on a recent trip home to see my family, my sister has been getting a bit of help, not to mention all the money spent on her wedding. My mother has often joked that because of that, I'll get their house, but I'm not counting on it! I don't mind if my sister's family gets a few handouts-- I look at it as something that gives my niece and nephew a good childhood. But sometimes, when I find myself postponing a purchase because I don't feel I should spend the money, I wish my sister and her husband would share that attitude a bit more. If my parents ever need financial help, I'll definitely be the one left holding the bag! Oh well. I guess that's what family is all about...