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'My nephew is a rotten apple - what's my obligation?'
A reader asks Money Magazine's ethicists how to weigh his troubled nephew's needs against his own daughter's.
By Jeanne Fleming, PH.D., and Leonard Schwarz

NEW YORK (Money) -- QUESTION: My brother's boy was a decent kid until he got to high school. Now he's always getting into trouble - trouble that's been costing his parents a small fortune to bail him out of.

They believe a boarding school will straighten him out, but they can't afford one, so they've asked my wife and me to help. That would mean using some of the money we've been saving to send our daughter to college, and my wife says this would be favoring a rotten apple at the expense of our good child.

Is she right?

ANSWER: Yes, in the sense that your first obligation is to your daughter, and it would be wrong to compromise her future - i.e., tap her college fund - in order to help pay for the boarding school.

If your nephew needed a new kidney, that would be one thing. But investing in a who-knows-if-it-will-work attempt to improve his character is not something you should be doing at your daughter's expense.

That said, you do have an obligation to help your brother when the going gets rough. Here this means looking at your family's budget (as opposed to your daughter's college fund) to see if there aren't some sacrifices that can be made in order to help.

Even if you and your wife believe that the likelihood of the boarding school approach working is low, your brother deserves your support. On the other hand, if his son doesn't begin to shape up, you also have an obligation to your own family not to throw good money after bad.

_____________________________________

Money Magazine's ethicists are consultants who advise attorneys on people's ethical beliefs. E-mail them at right_thing@moneymail.com.

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