Should I pay off uncles who say Dad owed them money?

Settling his father's estate, a son questions family members' claims.

By Jeanne Fleming, PH.D., and Leonard Schwarz

(Money Magazine) -- Question: After my 84-year-old father died, his two brothers told me they'd each lent him $1,000 to help pay his property taxes a couple of years ago. There's enough in Dad's estate to repay them, and I have no reason to believe my uncles are dishonest.

But I was close to my dad, and he never mentioned these loans. Moreover, they have nothing in writing, not even a canceled check (my uncles say they gave him cash). Should I give them the money?

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

Answer: We understand why you might doubt your uncles. Still, you're obligated to take their claims seriously and investigate. Review your dad's bank accounts, for example, to see if he made cash deposits around the time his property taxes were due, and look through his papers for some reference to the loans.

Unless your research convinces you beyond doubt that there was no debt, we suggest you pay up. It's not that you should reward dishonorable behavior, if that's what's going on. But if there's any chance your dad did borrow the money, it's important that his debts be repaid.

If you conclude, however, that your father's estate owes your uncles nothing, be forewarned: This is the sort of thing families take sides over. So even if you believe your uncles are a couple of octogenarian reprobates who are lying through their dental implants, ask yourself whether you want to start a family feud over $2,000.

On the other hand, if you suspect that paying undocumented claims will inspire other relatives to "remember" a loan, perhaps a family feud is the lesser of two evils.

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Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer LIBOR Warning: Neither BBA Enterprises Limited, nor the BBA LIBOR Contributor Banks, nor Reuters, can be held liable for any irregularity or inaccuracy of BBA LIBOR. Disclaimer. Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.