Dear Annie: I have a 75-year-old uncle who recently retired. "Hal" always had the best of everything — beach house, private schools, new cars, etc. After retirement, he sold real estate and proceeded to get into tax trouble. He declared bankruptcy after his attorney advised him to do so in order to stop the penalties and interest. He has refinanced his home but still owes the IRS nearly $20,000. He supports several family members on his pension and his deceased wife's pension.
He asked me whether I could ask my father-in-law, who owns several commercial properties, for a loan of $20,000. My father-in-law doesn't know Hal. (They briefly met at our wedding a few years back.) Of course, my father-in-law said "no" to that request.
When my husband suggested to Hal that it was time to bring his responsible adult children into the conversation to go over his finances, he didn't want to involve them. And Hal has sworn my husband and me to secrecy, making us promise not to tell my dad (his brother).
On one hand, I feel bad that he is having to go through this, particularly at his age. On the other hand, I feel that he has made this mess and should have to deal with the consequences, as he still supports two deadbeat children and a grandchild.
How can I handle this situation without damaging our relationship? Should I try to assist with his finances, and if so, how? — Stumped in Shreveport
Dear Stumped: Both of your "hands" hold valid points. It is unfortunate that your uncle is in this situation; it's also his doing and his responsibility to undo. You are not obligated to bankroll his ongoing bad judgment. If your not bailing him out were to end up damaging your relationship, it wouldn't be you who did the wounding.
If you'd really like to provide some financial assistance and it's within your means, go ahead — but proceed with realism. Don't expect to have control over how he uses the help. Though you could try to counsel him on what to do with the money and encourage him not to dole it out to freeloading relatives, there's a good chance he would. As Lord Byron said, "the best prophet of the future is the past."
Dear Annie: You showed sympathy to "Lost Without a Clue but Still Praying," the woman who has health issues and is on a tight budget but whose wealthy sister-in-law doesn't help financially. It may be understandable that she is upset, but her sister-in-law is not responsible for her. We are all accountable for only ourselves. Expecting others to bail us out is ridiculous and entitlement at its finest. — Self-Respect Is Worth More in MA
Dear Self-Respect: Financial help is a wonderful thing to give, but it's a terrible thing to expect. Your letter dovetails perfectly with the above letter from "Stumped in Shreveport," so I'm happy to be able to print them in one column.
Dear Annie: In a recent column, you said that humans evolved to "get all the vitamin D we need from the sun." Vitamin D does not come from the sun. The body manufactures a cholesterol derivative that is converted to vitamin D when exposed to ultraviolet light. It's a common misconception, of course, but no less important in the interest of accuracy. — Dr. John F. Hertner, emeritus professor of biology, University of Nebraska Kearney
Dear Dr. Hertner: I'm printing your letter to note the nuance. Thank you for the lesson. I'm always grateful to hear from professors.
"Ask Me Anything: A Year of Advice From Dear Annie" is out now! Annie Lane's debut book — featuring favorite columns on love, friendship, family and etiquette — is available as a paperback and e-book. Visit http://www.creatorspublishing.com for more information. Send your questions for Annie Lane to [email protected]