Do the Right Thing
By Jeanne Fleming, Ph.D., and Leonard Schwarz

(MONEY Magazine) – I Lend My Brother Money and He Buys a Fancy Car. Is That Fair?

Q. A year ago I lent my younger brother Josh $3,500 at no interest when his employer went bankrupt. Josh agreed to pay me $150 a month until the loan was paid off and has never missed a payment. But six months ago Josh landed a well-paying new job, and last weekend he arrived at our parents' 35th-anniversary barbecue in a new SUV. My husband is furious that Josh bought an expensive car (a lot nicer than mine) before repaying the loan. Since he's never missed a payment, I don't think he has really done anything wrong. Has he?

ANSWER While your brother has lived up to the letter of your agreement with him, he has ignored the spirit of generosity in which the loan was made. You lent him $3,500 in his hour of need, not asking for security and not asking for interest. In return, your brother should pay you back at the earliest date he reasonably can, not at the latest date his agreement with you permits.

Normally it's tough to find fault with someone who is faithfully paying off a debt as promised. But your brother wants to work the situation both ways. When he needed help--specifically, when he needed an unsecured, interest-free, four-figure loan--Josh turned to you as family. But now that he's back in the chips, your brother is treating your loan as if it came from a bank.

For that reason, your husband is not wrong to be upset. If Josh had a better moral compass, he would have repaid the balance of his debt to you before buying a new set of wheels, or at least spoken to you about his intentions first.

Do him a favor. Tell him where he went wrong. Being clueless may get Josh off the hook with his big sister, but most of the people he is going to deal with in life are likely to react to his self-centeredness just as your husband did.

Must I Honor a Dying Wish I Disagree With?

Q. An elderly friend died recently. His instructions for the funeral included a request that his friends make donations to his church in lieu of sending flowers. I am not a member of my friend's church. Moreover, it is fair to say that I loved my friend in spite of his religious beliefs, which I always thought were narrow-minded. While I would like to honor his dying wish, I do not want to give money to his church. Am I morally obligated to follow his request?

ANSWER You are not morally obligated to give money to any organization whose mission you disapprove of, including your friend's church. His request for donations was just that--a request, not an edict. The only thing you are ethically obligated to do is refrain from using your friend's death as an opportunity to air your disapproval of his religious beliefs.

You can still honor the spirit of his request by making a donation in his name, but to a different organization. Simply select a charity that is acceptable to you and to which you are confident he would be happy to see a contribution made in his memory. The best choice would be a local nonprofit to which, like his church, your friend had a personal connection.