Dear Quentin,

As a grand gesture of appreciation, I bought my parents — my mom and stepdad — a classic car. 

I’ve wanted to do so for some time, but this past Christmas was a good opportunity after doing well on last year’s investments and not having the typical group gift with siblings. I did make it a conditional gift, in the sense I requested it be willed to me upon their passing.  

I made sure to buy a good-condition classic instead of a junkyard model they would be required to fully restore. After a few months, I found out a discussion occurred, without me, between a brother and my stepdad. They decided that anything invested in the car by my parents would need to be compensated by me at the time of inheritance. 

I spent more on a nicer model that wouldn’t need much work. Therefore, I have much more invested. My parents have already put money into it with an engine rebuild and high-end paint work. My problem is the discussion that occurred, unbeknownst to me, that I would eventually “pay off” their investment. 

My parents are known to not have much in savings, and they spend their money paycheck to paycheck, so the general inheritance will be minimal. Do you see this as fair?

Frustrated Gifter

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at [email protected], and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.

Dear Gifter,

If someone gave me a gift on condition that I leave it to them after I die, I would have three thoughts, in this order: 1. They must really be looking forward to using this gift after I’ve honked the horn a final time. 2. It’s nice that they gave me such an extravagant present. And 3. I better make sure it’s returned in good shape. I don’t want them taking my name in vain after I’m gone.

I don’t believe a gift that must be returned upon the giftee’s death is a “grand” gesture, mostly because you would like it back. It’s thoughtful that you would want your parents to enjoy a classic car, assuming it’s something that they have wanted, and it’s also thoughtful to plan ahead to a time when you will be sitting in the driver’s seat of this gleaming vintage vehicle. 

You could have taken your chances, of course, and hoped that they would have thought of leaving the car to you. If it became part of their estate, you would otherwise have to buy your siblings’ share of the car, unless they generously decided to gift it to you. Given your parents’ limited means, it is not unexpected that a family would suggest taking the upgrade costs out of your inheritance.

This situation is a less-enjoyable “Genevieve”-esque comedy of manners. Is it a gift in the strictest sense, or have you essentially leased them this car on the condition that they take good care of it like a crown jewel?

I do agree that they should have consulted you first. It’s never nice to be presented with a fait accompli. But try not to look in the rearview mirror and ruminate on minor breaches of etiquette. 

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