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Carolyn Hax: Is it greedy to ask about an inheritance? For planning purposes, of course.

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)
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Hi Carolyn: My father worked most of his life as a shrewd investment banker and as a result, since his passing in 2001, my mom has lived comfortably on the interest from his investments. She hasn’t spent wildly and hasn’t traveled.

My two older sisters and I have an inheritance coming one day, but our parents were tight-lipped about financial issues with their kids so none of us knows how much there may be. My sister has my mom’s power of attorney and probably has some insight but we’ve never discussed it and I’m not comfortable asking because my family is critical and judgy.

Normally I would not care about the specifics of the inheritance, as I have a great job, make good money, and have savings of my own, but recently I’ve been considering a career change that would require a master’s degree and a potential pay cut. Inheritance would set my mind at ease about the cut and help in planning, but asking feels gauche and grabby.

How can I navigate this situation without upsetting, offending or being perceived as counting the money prematurely?

— Future Student?

Future Student?: It’s not gauche or grabby to want to know what the plans are, and I applaud families who can talk about finances and death openly — but it is counting the money prematurely.

Even if you found out how much your mom has left to the penny, that number could be useless to you in a matter of months for any number of reasons.

An “inheritance coming one day” is no inheritance at all until the money is in your account. For planning purposes, at least.

So make your career change or not based on the merits of the change — specifically, how well this new line of work suits you. If the only way it makes financial sense is if you have a windfall coming, then it doesn't make financial sense and you need to rethink all the numbers.

That’s it for the inheritance part of this program. But because you and your sisters are, I’m guessing, the responsible parties in case your mom ever becomes unable to care for herself, I hope you will square up and talk to your sisters about contingency plans. As in your mother’s medical, logistical and emotional support system — not her money.

Falling dutifully into “tight-lipped” norms is not in your mother's best interests.

So: “I know we don't really talk about stuff in our family, but I am concerned that we'll be caught off-guard if Mom ever needs us to step in on her behalf.” Start with the power-of-attorney sis and work outward from there, as appropriate.

If you can't do this without harboring even a tiny little mosquito buzz of an ulterior motive of predicting the size of the estate, then don't do it at all. The judgy have sensitive radar.

That's it for the unsolicited-advice part of this program.

If starting this much-less-sensitive conversation is just inconceivable, then that’s all the more reason not to poke around balances or terms of the will — the much-more-sensitive stuff. It’s all risk for information that may be of no use to you.

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