The Inequitable Distribution of Money Gifts

by admin on January 12, 2012

I write to you asking for some advice on how to handle an unusual family situation involving favouritism, and gifts of money.

My immediate family lived until recently in a city far removed from our extended family. We have since fragmented even further as my brothers and I (there are three of us, all in our twenties) have moved out, but we still flock to our childhood home as each year ends. Each Christmas we receive cheques and a card from Grandpa, all collected together in one envelope. Grandpa is a retired business owner with a lot of money to his name, so the cheques are substantial. Some years ago we noticed that we each received significantly different amounts. This might not be notable if this was based on age or somesuch, but it isn’t; after a few years that would be quite obvious. Rather, the difference is based on how much Grandpa likes the recipient. My older brother, for example, is having some problems with his life, and has had difficulty finding direction and applying himself to studies or a career. Grandpa doesn’t approve. He makes no secret of his opinion of each of us individually, often commenting on how well my younger brother in particular is doing (entirely fair, he is doing very well), while not mentioning another. In normal conversation this might pass without note; we don’t discuss our favourite athlete and then pause to give honourable mention to the others in the competition. However, Grandpa is effusive in his praise of my younger brother, “What a great guy,” he says. But when met with similar praise of my older brother he balks. “Oh yes,” he says, “All your children are great.”

In previous years the amount of money has appeared to follow whatever the trends of Grandpa’s comments are leading up to Christmas. This year we found that my younger brother and I received the same amount. Great, we’re happy with that. What we’re not happy with is that the amount is three times what my older brother got. Why is this? One explanation could be our individual needs. I have a wife and child (with another on the way) so perhaps the case could be made that I need the money. My younger brother has little income and is starting a company, so maybe he needs support too. My older brother has no job, is looking after his fiancée, and is reliant on his disability pension. There the reasoning unravels. The one with the most needs get the least. Although maybe it’s entirely the reason after all, since my younger brother and I could be called successful. He finished university with honours and is starting in business, and I’m studying while supporting a family, and own a home. Our older brother’s successes can be measured only in how he is managing his mental health, not in dollar amounts or qualifications. Rewarding people for personal success is fine, but is a matter entirely apart from Christmas, and should be secondary to ensuring one’s family is as healthy as possible.

Other examples of Grandpa’s attitude towards his grandchildren can be found in the difference between his gifts to my cousin and to me for our respective weddings. My cousin received a large sum of money as an engagement present, then another as a wedding gift. I received nothing for my engagement, and nothing for my wedding. My cousin and I are the same age. What is the difference, then?

What I want to know is how to tackle this problem. My mother left Grandpa messages, and wrote him a letter in order to get her feelings across but there was nary a peep from him on the issue. She now refuses to discuss us with him in any more detail than “they’re fine.” He occasionally tries to start a conversation on how poorly my older brother is doing (often in a roundabout way), or how well my younger brother and I are doing with a pointed omission, but my mother refuses to be drawn in.

Do I follow her lead and confront him on the issue? Maybe just mail the cheque back? Bank it anyway? The money would be helpful, especially around Christmas, but that’s too much like tacit approval of his contempt for my older brother.

I detest confrontation, but family needs to be respected. What should I do?  0111-12

Money is a great tool but it certainly can be used to complicate  relationships.  My first thought is that a person’s money is theirs to do with as they wish and if they choose to gift it to another, they are well within their rights to do so with no real obligation to explain to anyone how they spend their money.   The basic rule of money is that one does not talk about it….not how much you gave, not how much you have, not how much you were given, etc.   Grandpa breaks down this veil of discretion by placing all three checks for three siblings in the same envelope making it impossible to ignore how much he gives and virtually impossible for each recipient to be discreet about the amount they have received.

Your mother has appealed to her father to cease with the favoritism and has been ignored so I don’t see where you would have any greater powers of persuasion.   You have two solutions available to you.   Return the check uncashed or simply “lose it” so that it never gets cashed.  There is honor in not being a knowing pawn in Grandpa’s favoritism games.  The other alternative is to conspire with your younger brother to donate an equal share of your money gift to your older brother so that all three of you end up with the exact same amount of money.   If you and your younger brother each received $4,000.00 but older brother only $1,000.00,  each give the older brother $1,000.00 so that the net result is that all three brothers have received the exact same amount of $3,000.00.    If the relationship between the three siblings is worth having, money shouldn’t be a wedge that drives people farther apart.   And Grandpa does not need to know any of this since once a gift leaves his hands, it is yours to do with as you wish.

As for the matter of disparity in wedding gifts, I’m at a loss to figure out how anyone would know who got what and who didn’t get.   I don’t have a clue as to how my parents or inlaws may have gifted various grandchildren who married, including my own daughter.   Unless Grandpa is making it quite public how he chooses to give money gifts for weddings, it really is no one else’s business how much money was received and from whom.   In other words, your cousin should have no idea that you received nothing from Grandpa and on the flip side, how did you find out how much your cousin received?  If Grandpa is the blabbermouth, it reflects poorly on him as being a crass, indiscreet, manipulative old codger who tries to play one grandchild against another using money as the wedge.   The secret to happiness is to be completely free of the expectation of receiving other’s money so that when the inevitable disparity comes, one is not devastated with disappointment.   Gird yourself now because if Grandpa leaves a Will with money for grandchildren, you can definitely expect there to be quite an inequitable distribution of the estate.

{ 56 comments… read them below or add one }

ferretrick January 12, 2012 at 8:57 am

Overall, I agree that Grandpa’s money is his to gift to whoever he chooses in whatever manner he chooses, and I know it’s galling, but you have to make a command decision that you are not going to let yourself get upset about it. Grandpa’s a manipulative jerk who uses money to buy/show affection. When you think about it, that’s pretty pathetic and sad, so it’s not worth getting angry over.

However, I do think you are well within your right to say, “Grandpa, I prefer you put our gifts in seperate envelopes.” Hand the envelope back unopened until he does so. If he refuses, hand it to your mother, and have her put the checks in seperate envelopes before distributing them. Putting everyone’s check in the same envelope is not only tacky, it’s pure passive aggressive manipulation.

Alternatively, you can do as admin suggested-pool the money and divide it equally between the 3 of you-and you can let Grandpa know you have done so, or not. If your older brother is too proud to accept that, you could donate what you would have split with him to charity.

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koolchicken January 12, 2012 at 9:00 am

My father used to do this. He was a truly sick individual who didn’t care for my brother. He used to send one check for birthdays and another for Christmas. Some years he would send us all al check for each occasion and other years he would skip my brothers birthday. Another game he would play would be to send my sister and I the traditional $50 and send our brother one for $30 or $25. Our mother would try to console my younger (disabled) brother by telling him his birthday was so far apart from my sister and my birthdays it must have slipped his mind (it would be a cold day in hell before this man ever forgot anything). Or the reason he received less than my sister and I was because we were older, or he must be hard on cash (again, not likely).

The point of it all is this, there are always going to be these sorts of people in your life so learn to ignore them. Don’t get into it with him, it’s not worth it. It’s not likely he’ll ever change so why start a war? Just talk to your siblings and split the money evenly between the three of you. Trust me, nothing eases the sting of a parent or grandparent telling you (in any fashion) they don’t care for you then your siblings showing that they do. My sister and I would usually buy a little something for our brother with our holiday money (like a cake or other treat to share) and it’s quickly made things right.

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livvy17 January 12, 2012 at 9:03 am

Excellent advice from Admin. Pool the money and split between you, if it bothers you.
As you’ve correctly acertained, Grandpa uses the money to express his pleasure / displeasure with your lives. Perhaps it’s the only way that he can feel like he has control / relavance in your lives. Perhaps he misses running a business, where such monetary approval/disapproval is good business practice! Maybe he feels that your older brother should be coming to him for advice, etc.
I agree that confronting him directly probably isn’t going to do you a bit of good. As Admin says, the best way to avoid hurt feelings is to eliminate any expectation at all.

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Wendy January 12, 2012 at 9:10 am

This reminds me so much of my father in law it’s scary.

My husband is the youngest of three boys and also adopted. His birth mother, who died shortly after his birth, was the sister of his adoptive mother. For the first few years of his live, DH’s father treated him like his biological son. But as years passed, he was singled out as the reason for his dad’s “problems.” He’s been blamed for the end of his parent’s marriage, for making his dad “look bad,” for marrying someone his dad didn’t like (not me!), etc. etc. His brothers have come to his defense in the past to no avail. He keeps contact with his dad, but keeps it at a minimum to reduce the amount of heartache.

I agree with the admin here…if the brothers really want to make it right, they can share in their gifts with the older brother. Grandpa isn’t going to change at this point, but if the brothers do what’s right, they can be examples of what it is to be real men, and ultimately show their children what it means to be a good person to someone else.

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Xtina January 12, 2012 at 9:20 am

I had the exact same thoughts as the admin. You can’t change the man and I would ignore his attempts to play/win favorites, but if the relationship is good between you siblings, then just pool the gift money and divide it equally. However, I feel it would be sort of rude to return the check uncashed–if you care about Grandpa at all, then it would probably only cause more family problems than it’s worth to “take a stand” in that manner and start refusing his gift.

Grandpa obviously wants it to be known that he has favorites; otherwise, he would be discreet about his giving and give each of you a separate envelope so as not to advertise to the others who received what amount of money. Don’t play into it, OP.

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Katy January 12, 2012 at 9:27 am

I think the rude behavior here is the sharing of gift amounts between grandchildren. What someone chooses to give someone else and for what reason is their own private business. If my siblings complained that I spent more on one than the other they wouldn’t be getting many more gifts from me.

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starstruck January 12, 2012 at 9:34 am

yes that advice is spot on. if it were my brothers i would give them a portion of my check . shame on grandpa for using money to make his grandchildren bad. yuck . it just proves money doesnt buy class or a conscience

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Jojo January 12, 2012 at 9:35 am

Ah, the joys of family money. I’ve stopped speaking to the obnoxious relative that tried to buy me off. It’s just not worth the hassle of watching her try manipulate myself and my brother.
Make a point of returning the money and tell him why. He’ll respect you for it and you’ll respect yourself far more for standing up for your principles. Yeah, the money’s brilliant but it’s not doing your family any good. He’s just doing this to feel a sense of power and control over everyone and you need to show him that that is not how you want your relationship with him to be. Remind Grandpa that you’ll be standing at his grave mourning his passing rather than hanging about to see what he’s left you in the will – like some of the people he’s been buying off all of these years.

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Chocobo January 12, 2012 at 9:45 am

I detest confrontation, but family needs to be respected. What should I do?

Laugh about it. There’s nothing to be done, and you are certainly not going to change an old man’s mind at this point. Your mother has said her piece and jumping on board is not going to help, and besides it will make you appear ungrateful for the generosity.

My first thought was the same solution as proposed by the Admin. Why not cash the checks and then distribute evenly among the three of you? It won’t relieve the sting of being less favored by grandpa that year, but nothing will change his favoritism anyhow, no matter how much shunning or chiding is involved. At least there will be goodwill between the three of you knowing that even if Grandpa’s affections are conditional, the love between yourselves is not.

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Wink-n-Smile January 12, 2012 at 9:46 am

My money’s on Grampa making the gift public knowlege. Possibly making a public announcement at the engagement party and the reception. “I’m giving my grandchild $X for the engagement. Let’s have a toast!”

Did Grampa give another type of gift, rather than money, for the OP’s wedding? If so, just say thank you for the gift, and move on. If not, well, at least you know where you stand. Except for the annual reminder at Christmas, you can probably count on being low on the totem pole for grandchildren, so please don’t compare with the cousins, if it’s at all avoidable. You can’t control Grampa’s indiscretion, but you can avoid asking, at least.

This sounds like a very painful relationship. I’m so sorry.

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Jay January 12, 2012 at 9:53 am

“The other alternative is to conspire with your younger brother to donate an equal share of your money gift to your older brother so that all three of you end up with the exact same amount of money. ”

This.

If you have a good, open relationship with your siblings, which it seems you do, then this is definitely the route I’d choose. Especially since it’s consistent — Grandpa sends checks each year, and there’s always some issue. Make an agreement between the three of you that every year you’ll do this with your holiday gift checks, regardless of who gets what that year. Be clear what it includes (e.g. “Just Christmas”), so that it doesn’t become a bigger issue when, someday, an estate is being divided up.

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jena rogers January 12, 2012 at 10:16 am

If I were in a similar situation, I would meet up with my sibs, pool our monetary gifts, and split the total equally among the three of us. The rudeness with Grandpa is not in the amount of the gift (that’s his decision); it is in his apparent uninformed, unsolicited judgment about his grandchildren. Your mother appears to be doing the right thing by not engaging in triangulation about any of her children. I don’t believe further confrontation by you or others is warranted. ‘Doesn’t sound like Grandpa is going to change his attitude significantly. Be gracious with your gift-receiving in his presence, support one another in any discussions regarding any of you, then talk amongst yourselves privately on what you deem an equitable split. What you do with your money is your business, just as what he does with his money is his business.

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Gracie C. January 12, 2012 at 10:18 am

I agree with all the Admin said, and as I was reading, I felt the solution was to pool all three checks and simply divide by three. Grandpa sounds like a piece of work, but you don’t have to let his games taint your relationships with your brothers.

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Terra January 12, 2012 at 10:25 am

Focus on what you can control: the relationship with your brothers. The most important thing is not to let money come between you. I love the idea of splitting the total. It puts a decision in the sibling’s hands and can help you all bond. At the very least, you can all use this as a lesson in how NOT to behave when you’re grandfathers.

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Kitty Lizard January 12, 2012 at 10:32 am

Grandpa is obviously enjoying his little game of distributing his largesse to his progeny while tormenting
them at the same time. The OP is to be congratulated in that the two “favored” brothers are trying to
look out for their disabled brother. The Moderator’s solution is excellent, provided Grandpa doesn’t get
wind of it, which would probably end in everyone getting cut off, perhaps for the better, until he learns to behave himself, which will probably never happen.

Kitty

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Hemi Halliwell January 12, 2012 at 11:05 am

I agree with Admin and others commenters – Grandpa isn’t likely to change so avoid a confrontation. If the difference in the amount of checks given out really bothers you & your brother, pool it and split it evenly.

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Cat January 12, 2012 at 11:12 am

This reminds me of the old game of, “He got the bigger half!” Grandpa’s money is Grandpa’s money. I can’t see chasing the old codger demanding that he be “fair” now that you are all adults.

Once he gives you the check, it’s your money. Share it with your brother, support a poor child with it, buy Grandpa a really lavish gift.

My brother stole from my parents for as long as he could and he stole all of their money in both checking and savings accounts when they died. His name was on the accounts because, as the only son, he was supposed to pay funeral costs. I paid the costs and never said a word to him. It was their money, not mine, and they knew he was a thief and would steal it.

I am a great believer in, “Where your treasure is, there will be your heart also.” Treasure your brother for his courage in dealing with his problems and let the old man do with his money as he wants. You don’t want your heart in his wallet – especially if he keeps his wallet where most men do.

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Jays January 12, 2012 at 11:13 am

@ Katy, the thing is, Grandpa is giving his gifts in a way that means everyone sees what the amount is. They’re not whispering amongst themselves. (At least, that’s not how I read it.)

I agree with the others. Just returning the check helps no one; if you feel this needs to be remedied (and your younger brother does, too), pool the money and split it evenly.

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NicoleK January 12, 2012 at 11:19 am

You could split it according to the amount of family members in each household… once your brother marries the fiancee, they count as 2 people, so get 2 shares… you and your wife and kids count as 4 people, etc. Or an even split between siblings.

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Politrix January 12, 2012 at 11:52 am

While I wholeheartedly agree with everyone’s solution — to cash the checks and split the money evenly among the three of them — I might also suggest that all three brothers remember to send gracious thank-you notes to grandpa for the money, regardless of the amount each one received. This will let him know that regardless of how one of them has been treated, they all have basic manners and a whole lot of class… and more importantly, any attempts by Grandpa to cause hurt feelings, ill will or negativity have gone completely unnoticed and unrewarded.

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The Elf January 12, 2012 at 11:52 am

At least the favored ones acknowledge this! As the unfavored one, I have tried to get my sibling and parents to see the inequity and failed. I didn’t want a bean-counting reckoning, I just wanted acknowledgement of the problem.

Anyway, admin’s solution is the best – agree among the three that this is a problem and that whoever gets the most splits it out so that all three get the same no matter what their life circumstances.

You can’t really bring it up to Grandpa – he can give whatever he wants to give. But an informal arrangement on the side, well that’s something else entirely!

To all the other “unfavored” ones out there: I found that once I stopped letting it bother me, I felt better about it. This is not a personal judgement on me. I can let it slide and not be bitter about it.

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alli_wan January 12, 2012 at 11:54 am

Not to play Devil’s Advocate, but is it possible that Grandpa is supporting the disabled brother in some other manner that is not obvious to the OP and his other brother? Is Grandpa perhaps supplementing his housing costs, or did he provide a costly downpayment? If the disabled brother has mental issues, is it possible Grandpa has been burned before, and has a history of giving money only to see it wasted, was stolen from at some point, or was disabled brother has made it clear he is not a good custodian of larger amounts of money? Could it be that giving disabled brother too much money would endanger his eligibility for government support programs? Could Grandpa be giving the other brothers more money knowing that the excess will be going back to the disabled brother in terms of better-managed funds or time spent caring for him? Could Grandpa be squirreling away money to care for the disabled brother while he is gone.

The tacky thing here is that Grandpa uses one envelope, not that Grandpa gives money as he sees fit. You can ask he put the checks in different envelopes, you could ask a neutral third party to distribute them, or you can choose not the ‘peek’. You don’t get to dictate how Grandpa spends his money.

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--Lia January 12, 2012 at 11:59 am

I was thinking of splitting the money evenly even before I read the admin’s suggestion to do the same. The only thing I’d add is some discussion with the older brother. It would go like this:

“I can’t figure Grandpa out. It could be dementia, or he really could be that evil. The one thing I do know is that my relationship with a man who could play favorites like that isn’t as important as my relationship with my brother. It’s almost like he’s trying to drive us apart, and that’s the one thing I want to make sure does not happen. Would taking an even share help to make sure we don’t end up resenting each other?”

Then listen to your brother’s answer. He may have been laughing it off; he may be hurt. Whatever he says, make sure your emphasis is on his feelings and ending bad feeling, not creating it. If he says that he doesn’t want the money, go with what he says and let him know that he can change his mind. If he says he does want it, give it to him easily and let him know he doesn’t owe you thanks. Emphasize that as far as you’re concerned, it’s only fair.

Then, since Grandpa sends his gifts all in one envelope, send your thank-you notes in one envelope as well. Don’t mention the amounts since you wouldn’t put that in a thank-you note anyway. Just all three of you send individual short appreciative notes saying that you’re grateful for his gift and that you wish him well.

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gramma dishes January 12, 2012 at 12:06 pm

Okay, I’m going to play the Devil’s Advocate here.

I’m pretty certain that our children do not get together and compare cash gifts, but if they did so only on the occasion of Christmas, they would find that each gets a different amount of money. Why? Because we give them (or spend on them) in different amounts during the rest of the year. At the end, we add everything up and make sure that each child comes out exactly to the penny equally for the YEAR, not for this specific holiday.

No one is either rewarded or penalized for being single or being married, choosing to have several children or choosing to have no children, working in a lucrative field or happy doing work they love for relatively paltry pay. In other words, their lives are their business and we don’t care what they choose to do. We just treat them all equally, but you wouldn’t know that based on one holiday’s checks.

Grandpa sound like a real … ahem … (especially the part about the differences between her own and her cousin’s engagements and weddings) but the truth is that there may be more to the story that the OP doesn’t know.

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Ashley January 12, 2012 at 12:34 pm

I’d just pool the money and split it. Once it has been gifted, Grandpa can’t designate what you do with it.

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Lesli January 12, 2012 at 12:35 pm

While I feel it’s rude for Grandpa to make public his gifting amounts to apparently make a point, what he gives to whom is his to decide for whatever reasons he has; perhaps he feels the shorted brother would not spend the money wisely? In any case, I agree that returning the check would be rude in itself, with the gifted becoming an ungracious recipient, and that simply pooling the funds and sharing equally is the best solution. On the wedding amounts; as I giver, if I found out that people were comparing amounts I gave to each of them, and then worse, becoming aggrieved about those differences, I’d be inclined to simply stop gifting those people in the future. It seems pretty nervy to me for somebody to expect to guilt or strong-arm someone else into giving more of their money (or items, or time, or whatever), to anybody, for whatever reason.

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whiskeytangofoxtrot January 12, 2012 at 1:04 pm

I agree with the point that a gift is just that, and is at the giver’s discretion; not the recipient’s place to say how, or what, when, why, or even if the giver should go about it. On the other hand, the same holds true that the recipients can do with it as they please also, and the giver doesn’t have any say-so as to what they choose to do with it once they receive it, if it is in fact a “gift’.

I wonder if the slighted brother knows he’s being slighted (I presume so), and if it would be awkward for him to know that his siblings were trying to make it up to him for being ill-treated. If not, then I say sure, pool the funds and divide them however the three see fit. Another suggestion might be to use a portion of their own gifts to do a little additional shopping for the slighted brother, and help him out with things he needs and can’t afford, or maybe a few nice extras that just aren’t in his budget, and just don’t mention their monetary value .

All that aside, Grandpa does sound like a real jerk.

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SHOEGAL January 12, 2012 at 1:40 pm

Grandpa will never see reason so it wouldn’t do any good to confront him or to return the check. Pool the money and distribute it evenly. You have prevented Grandpa’s evil statement from having an impact and strengthened your relationship with your siblings and he is none the wiser.

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Allie January 12, 2012 at 2:02 pm

Gosh, that was an awfully long story given that the answer is so short. There’s nothing you can do. Period. It’s up to Grandpa what he gives to whom, and young men in their twenties shouldn’t be relying on Granpa’s largess, regardless of their circumstances. Grandpa’s gifts are completely discretionary.

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Marjorie Margarine January 12, 2012 at 2:17 pm

I agree with splitting the cash into equitable amounts, too, but I do think there’s a polite way to bring this up to grandpa.

Some time, when OP is visiting Grandpa alone, she says, “Grandpa, thank you so much for the Christmas check. You are always so generous! I wasn’t trying to pry, but since you put the checks for all three of us in the same envelope, when I was giving the check to Disabled Brother, I happened to see that his amount was much lower than mine. I don’t want you to feel as if you need to give me extra cash just because of the kids/house/my school. I know that Favored Other Brother feels the same way.” If he says, “I gave you extra money because I dislike Disabled Brother,” then I think you can be free to say, “Oh, Grandfather, I’m sure you don’t mean that! Disabled Brother is disabled and has had so much hardship in life, I think he’s doing pretty well for himself. He is my brother and I love him very dearly.”

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Phoebe161 January 12, 2012 at 2:22 pm

Sending the check back will not make Grandpa “understand;” the old sticker will *never* admit that what he is doing is wrong & it would just cause more problems. If your mother cannot convince him, then more than likely no one can say or do anything that would change his mind. I love the idea of pooling the money & splitting it 3 ways, & I darn sure wouldn’t tell Grandpa I did it!

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Alla January 12, 2012 at 2:38 pm

I disagree with the Admin.

DO NOT simply “lose” the checque, unless of course you just want to screw your grandparent over or something. How would *you* like to try and balance your accounts, with something like that going on?

If it really bothers you that there is such a disparity, then as some folks above have suggested, why not all three of you cash out, then pool the total, then split it in some fashion. Why even bother telling grandpa?

You are not, at this juncture in your lives or in his, going to convince him to change his views about “hard work” or about “being on the dole” or anything else.

Take the high road. Thank him graciously, then, see above, pool and split.

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David January 12, 2012 at 2:40 pm

Your grandfather certainly has issues.

You and your brothers shouldn’t let them affect you if at all possible. Since Grandpa makes sure that everyone sees how much he gives each sibling, just pool it together and split it evenly. And bean dip if you are ever in a conversation with your grandfather and he brings up your siblings.

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Tara January 12, 2012 at 2:42 pm

Money that belongs to a jerk is still the jerk’s to spread about as he pleases. If all you feel bad about is the money, pool it and share, without telling grandpa since he might retaliate by giving your and your other brother even less. Nothing you do will ever take away the sting of favoritism though, so just chalk it up to crazy people gonna be crazy and leave it be.

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Cheryl M January 12, 2012 at 2:49 pm

I also like the idea of pooling the money and splitting it evenly between you. Just a caution that, while there is general agreement on this forum that this is a great idea, your younger brother might not want to part from his money in this way. That shouldn’t stop you from gifting some of you money to your older brother, and also shouldn’t cast a shadow on your relationship with your younger brother.

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redbox January 12, 2012 at 4:56 pm

It’s Grandpa’s money, he gets to decide who he gives it to.
You don’t get to spend other peoples money or dictate the gifts they give you unless they ask for your input. If you don’t like your gift refuse it.
He doesn’t owe you anything LW.

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lkb January 12, 2012 at 4:56 pm

Grandpa’s money is grandpa’s money. It’s his right, unfortunately, to divvy it up as he sees fit. I wonder how the cheques are distributed. Does everyone just pass around the envelope and take the cheque with his or her name on it? Or does another person (like Grandma or the eldest sibling) handle the distribution? I just wonder if one person should be designated to handle the distribution, a person who can be trusted to do so without letting on who got how much.

I’m sorry for the hurt the situation causes the family. It’s sad that it has to be that way. My husband’s grandmother gives significant cheques to the grandchildren every year and each is given in its own envelope directly to the recipient. The uncle who is in charge of her finances knows who got what but has never occurred to us to question who got what. It’s none of our business.

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grumpy_otter January 12, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Grandpa’s a manipulative control freak–don’t take it personally. (My mom does the same thing with her will)

Admin’s advice is excellent–sounds like you love your brothers and are close so make a pact that all three of you will pool and share whatever you receive in gifts, or whenever he dies.

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Kate January 12, 2012 at 8:55 pm

My Nanna is like this. Because I was the oldest child, she used to give me more expensive presents, but when she started to disapprove of my ‘life choices’ (not doing a law degree and getting engaged to a guy from a financially disadvantaged background), the favouritism switched to my younger sister.
I don’t mind because of what is expected of the recipient of the larger present. If my grandmother chooses to ignore me, I have no obligation to make an effort with her. My sister, on the other hand, is expected to visit all the time and update her regularly on every aspect of her life.

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Edhla January 12, 2012 at 11:22 pm

So far as I see it, those who are saying “it’s grandpa’s money and he can spend it on what he likes, so don’t be greedy” are missing the point. LW isn’t upset that grandpa isn’t giving them more. LW is upset that grandpa is singling out Disabled Brother for less and, worst of all, is deliberately making that known by posting all three cheques together. If it was discovered after many years that there was a marked difference in the amounts the cheques were made out for and that grandpa had secretly favoured Favoured Brother, that’s one thing, but for him to basically wave the cheques in the faces of those concerned to make DARN sure they all SAW how he was giving one grandchild less, that makes him really quite the… yeah, no, insert your own name there, I can’t think of any polite ones right now :) As for me, I’d return the cheque on principle, not because I’m a good person or I’ve got plenty of money, but because I’m stubborn like that. All too often monetary gifts can be used to manipulate or to buy loyalty and this sounds like it’s one of those times. Ack.

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Mitch January 12, 2012 at 11:38 pm

OP here:
Firstly to comment on the wedding gifts: Grandpa has a loose tongue, as does his friend/partner/it’s complicated. These things become known without any communication between my cousin and me.
Grandpa knows what he is doing, e.g., He told anyone that would listen this year that my older brother wouldn’t get anything for Christmas because [insert meaningless, disparaging reasons here]. Maybe he forgot to give him nothing? I don’t know.

I love the idea of the split. It seems like a good way to go. It lets Grandpa play Grand Vizier, and lets us live happily ever after. Everyone wins.

It was a long story because money is a tricky subject. I had to be sure that readers would have sufficient information to make an appropriate recommendation. I’m glad I got advice both from admin and from my fellow readers. I appreciate the thought that was put into your responses.

A point of clarification: there is no intent to coerce more money out of Grandpa, nor are any of us reliant on his assistance. I can only imagine what that would be like, and it isn’t pleasant. I’ll try to respond to other comments as I’m able.

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Parka Pat January 12, 2012 at 11:54 pm

Grandpa can do whatever he wants with his money. He can give it to one grandchild, all grandchildren or burn it up in the fireplace if he is so inclined. No one has any business telling Grandpa how to distribute his money.

The grandchildren can do whatever they want with the money once it is in their hands. If they want to divide it equitably, that’s their business. If not, then so be it. Best to become self-supporting so that Grandpa’s gift money is just a drop in the bucket.

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Rug Pilot January 13, 2012 at 12:04 am

I understand the slighted brother is disabled. He may lose his benefits if he has too much income even from gifts or too many assets. The best way to provide for a disabled person with benefits based on income and assets is with a special needs trust. The trustee can give the disabled person whatever additional goods a nd services he may want.

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ferretrick January 13, 2012 at 8:30 am

I already made a comment that never showed up for some reason, but OP, galling as it is, the best course of action is for you to make a command decision not to care about this. Your grandpa is a nasty man who uses money as a passive aggressive tool to show approval/disapproval and buy affection. Your first instinct is to resent it, and mine would be too, but when you think about it, it’s really just pathetic and sad, so make a command decision to simply roll your eyes (privately) and not to let it get to you.

By all means, split the money between the three of you outside of Grandpa’s hearing. If your brother prefers not to do that and you still feel guilty, donate your excess amount to a charity. And I’d end the stuff with the envelope. Hand the envelope to your Mother, without opening it, and ask her to hand out the checks privately.

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Kai January 13, 2012 at 9:59 am

Following up on what Rug Pilot said — I have an aunt who was in a terrible accident as a small child and remains severely disabled in multiple categories to this day (50+ years later). Another aunt serves as trustee for her. As Aunt A is my godmother, I get cards for my birthday and Christmas, usually with a check ranging from $20-50 in one of them. I don’t ASK for the money nor do I expect it, but it’s always a nice surprise – and yes, I send thank-you cards! The account the checks are written off of is held in trust by Aunt B, and requires that Aunt B sign off on them before they are legitimate. If the brother in question is disabled enough that he is benefits-based, this may be the best option. However, if he is not, and managing to get by but just has some problems, then the original plan of the split is a good one.

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Amber January 13, 2012 at 10:06 am

I was in a relationship for a few years with a guy whose mother used to play games like this. The differences in gift quality and expense weren’t so clear the first few years I knew her, but then she inhereted a very large amount of property and money and seemed to revell in stirring up drama and playing people off against each other.

The final holiday season I was spent with their family, she made it very obvious who she liked best. She gave each of her children and their partners a sum of money and instructed us to choose ourselves a gift and have it sent to her home to be opened together on Christmas morning. It seemed harmless enough until the unwrapping began, when it became startlingly apparent that she had given people very different sums of money.

Her eldest son opened a new stereo, his gay life partner (of many years) opened a CD. Her next born son (my partner of only a few years) opened an equally expensive new array of fishing equipment, I opened a brand new wooden 8 seater outdoor table and chair setting complete with enormous market umbrella and iron stand. Her next born son opened some relatively expensive car accessories (though obviously worth only about half as much as his older brothers’ gifts), his (pregnant) fiance opened a CD.

Next was her 17 year old daughter who opened package after package after package of expensive clothing, underwear, bedding, electrical equipment for her room – and then the clincher, a brand new soft top 4×4 decked out with matching cartoon character seat covers, steering wheel cover, floor mats and spare wheel cover. Whilst everybody was very gracious and ignored the inconsistent gift values on the day, it did cause quite a lot of drama afterward, particularly as my boyfriend’s mother decided to specifically tell everybody how much she had allocated to each person.

The money his mother inhereted – or more so her choices in sharing it – tore that family appart. She was hugely generous to some, whilst completely disregarding others. Though it’s her choice the way she spends her money, her delight at making every generous gesture public knowledge ended up causing a lot of damage to her children and their relationships with her and each other. My (now ex) boyfriend no longer has any contact with any of his family members, which I find very sad.

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Yvaine January 13, 2012 at 11:02 am

So far as I see it, those who are saying “it’s grandpa’s money and he can spend it on what he likes, so don’t be greedy” are missing the point. LW isn’t upset that grandpa isn’t giving them more. LW is upset that grandpa is singling out Disabled Brother for less and, worst of all, is deliberately making that known by posting all three cheques together. If it was discovered after many years that there was a marked difference in the amounts the cheques were made out for and that grandpa had secretly favoured Favoured Brother, that’s one thing, but for him to basically wave the cheques in the faces of those concerned to make DARN sure they all SAW how he was giving one grandchild less, that makes him really quite the… yeah, no, insert your own name there, I can’t think of any polite ones right now As for me, I’d return the cheque on principle, not because I’m a good person or I’ve got plenty of money, but because I’m stubborn like that. All too often monetary gifts can be used to manipulate or to buy loyalty and this sounds like it’s one of those times. Ack.

Exactly. I have no idea why the OP is being chastised for being greedy. He’s actually benefiting from the unequal split, but still doesn’t think it’s right. I think maybe some commenters only read part of the post.

I like the idea of the brothers privately redistributing it after the fact.

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sv January 13, 2012 at 12:13 pm

Just like it is Grandpa’s money to give away, once he has given it to you it becomes yours. Pool the money and split it evenly. You cannot make Grandpa change his actions – you can only change yours.

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Cat Whisperer January 13, 2012 at 11:34 pm

It’s grandpa’s money. He can choose to give it to whoever he chooses: his favorite child or grandchild, his mistress if he has one, or the director of a shelter for homeless cats. He can choose to spend it on himself if he wants, he can hand it over to a worthy charity, or he can even convert it into paper currency and have himself a bonfire if that’s what he wants to do. It’s grandpa’s money.

Grandpa is pretty astute old coot, isn’t he? OP makes the observation that “…Grandpa is a retired business owner with a lot of money to his name…” And grandpa is sharp enough to observe that his dear family sees him as a cash cow to be milked. So the old coot uses his family’s own hunger for his money to try to manipulate them. Grandpa probably enjoys doing this.

What OP and the rest of her family need to do isn’t to try to manipulate Grandpa into giving his money out the way THEY want to have it distributed; the way to stop this manipulation is to refuse to play.

Just decide, when grandpa hands out his monetary incentives for performance at holiday time, that you’re going to hand the cheque right back to him. “Grandpa, you’re using your money to reward or punish people for conforming to your expectations. I don’t believe that’s right and I don’t want to be a part of it, so I don’t want your money. Thank you for the kind thoughts but I can’t in good conscience take it.”

OP could also decide to split her gift from the old coot with someone who got a lesser share.

What I sense unsaid in this is that OP would like the family to deal with grandpa in a united front– either everyone give grandpa back his money, or everyone put their gift into a pool that gets divided equally, but someone in the family is balking at this approach and wants to keep whatever they’ve been given. OP needs to realize that just as the money is grandpa’s to give as he wishes, once he hands it over to someone as a gift, that sum of money is theirs to do with as they please, and OP has no say in what they choose to do.

The bottom line: you cannot control the behavior of other people. The only person whose behavior you have absolute and complete control over is your own. OP needs to decided what he feels comfortable doing about the gifts grandpa gives to him, without regard to what anyone else “should” do. If OP wants to keep the money, then thank grandpa and keep it. If OP wants to give grandpa back the money, he thanks grandpa politely for the gift but says he does not feel comfortable accepting it. If OP wants to give some or all of the money to another family member, he thanks grandpa for the gift and then distributes the money as he sees fit without telling grandpa what he did.

Life becomes a whole lot easier when you realize that the only person who you can control and whose behavior you are responsible for is YOU. Then you’re freed from trying to make other people behave the way you want them to behave– which is, incidentally, what grandpa is trying to do. Once you realize you’re free from being responsible for anyone else but you, it’s usually pretty easy to figure out what the right thing to do is. Then you just do it, feel good about it, and don’t worry about what other people are, or aren’t, doing.

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Enna January 14, 2012 at 6:27 am

Admin – the same idea of splitting the money equally came across my mind to. That is disgusting behaviour of Grandpa, it would still be bad even if Grandpa did it in secret. My Grandma keeps very accuate records of what she has given to me and my sibling so she can treat us equally, which I think is fair and if one has recieved more she will give the other the difference. I can imagine an individual giving a distant relation a smaller gift then a closer one, also depending on how close the individual is with the relation: however when it comes to children/grandchildren I think parents/grandparents should do their best to give equal gifts.

Sometimes situations can make things different e.g. if a child/grandchild loses his/her job and wealthy parent/grandparent helps them out to buy food that is a bit different. To me the OP’s brother is being treated very badly by his grandfather. Grandfather is being rude and crass by making it so clear he doesn’t like his grandson. It’s not like the OP’s brother has done something horrific like had a mad party at grandpa’s house and the place got trashed, or a crime like fraud. To me it is important to be nice and polite to people so they are nice back.

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