Further Thoughts And Questions On “The Lottery Winner’s Sister-in-Law” (Part 2)


As promised, here are some proposed lines regarding the ethics quiz on the lottery-enriched brother and whether his financially-challenged sibling  should ask for a cut—and had a right to expect one. (Part 1 of the “Further Thoughts” is here)

All of the following assume that the lottery-winner does not have a personal emergency or crisis of his own that would require him to spend all or most of the money.

1. The wealthy brother is ethically obligated to offer financial assistance, if he can afford it without excessive hardship, without being asked, if his brother or his brother’s family is facing a health crisis of other catastrophe.

This is true regardless of whether his new financial resources come from luck, planning, work or skill, and regardless of how much money he has. Offering a loan rather than a gift is still fair and ethical. Charging interest under these circumstances is not, unless the poor brother has a record of not paying back earlier loans.

Possible exceptions:

  • If the crisis was triggered by criminal or irresponsible conduct on the part of the poorer brother.
  • If the crisis is a repeat of an earlier one that the rich brother responded to, and the poor brother is accountable for letting it occur again.
  • If a previous crisis prompted a gift or loan by the rich brother and the money was misused or wasted.
  • If a non-relative or other individual of equal or greater importance to the rich brother requires financial assistance, and assisting both the brother and the other individual is not possible without unreasonable hardship to the rich brother of his family.

2. The rich brother is obviously obligated to volunteer financial assistance if the poor brother provided extraordinary assistance, financial or otherwise, when the rich brother was facing a previous crisis or asked for help. He is similarly obligated if he needs to make amends for a substantial wrong done to the brother that had negative financial circumstances, or that only be fairly compensated with a transfer of wealth.

3. It is reasonable and ethical for the poor brother to ask for financial assistance if the threat to him or his family is dire, if the rich bother is not aware of it, or if a formal request would be expected based on the relationship.

Possible exceptions:

  • If the poor brother is aware that the rich brother is receiving other requests from family or friends.

4.  Assuming that the expectation of financial assistance is triggered by a windfall (inheritance, buried treasure), sudden success ( Microsoft stock options), a huge salary increase (becoming a mega-law firm partner) or luck (the lottery), the lowest amount that allows a reasonable expectation of sharing the wealth is…I have no idea.

Let’s vote on it:

5. Does it ever matter how the richer brother came to get rich, assuming the manner was legal and did not involve deliberately harming the poor brother or his own financial opportunities ?


13 thoughts on “Further Thoughts And Questions On “The Lottery Winner’s Sister-in-Law” (Part 2)

  1. My biblical moral code requires that I check “any windfall” for the second part of the poll, but that assumes certain things (that I am a Christian, that harm wouldn’t be done by sharing such as enabling an addict or a swindler, that there is not a more pressing humanitarian crisis that I am compelled to solve with the windfall, etc.)

    Those things cannot be assumed or taken as the general norm, so I checked “Never.” I can’t see it as any kind of universal ethical obligation that anyone should ever be compelled to share anything. Sharing that isn’t optional isn’t sharing.

    • The suggestion of the wife was that they were in distress. I used “dire” because if the gift isn’t justified when it’s dire, it’s certainly not justified if it’s not. “Dire” is a matter of opinion. The conditions described in the post cover the waterfront.

  2. I think if you win $50 million, you are ethically obligated to ask your immediate family members what you can do for them to share the wealth. (i.e. clear credit card debt, establish a retirement account, pay for a child’s college fund). I see a difference between making the future easier and giving vacations and things.

    Of course, at $50 million, depending on family size (I have 2 siblings) One would think that a 6-figure gift for each would not be out of the question. What probably hurts the intellect of a windfall recipient the most though is that moment they pay the tax. “Hey, you won $50 Million. Here’s your check for $27 Million!” Oh – I just lost $23M. I really should be careful with what I have left.

    • I don’t think that’s an ethical obligation. I mean….. Why would it be? How do you get from point A (I received money) to point B (I owe money to my family)? I mean, it would be nice of you to do it, it would also be nice of you to mow your mother’s lawn…. And ethical obligation though? That’s strong. Did they somehow support you in your lottery purchases? Would they have kicked you something back if you’d lost big? Where’s the consideration?

      • Well, ethical obligations depend on your ethical system. Everybody has a different ethical system with different obligations. Personally, I owe it to my family to think about them and consider them if I were to have good fortune because they have always thought of me and considered me even when they were not having good fortune. Based on how I’ve been treated by my family to this point in my life, it would be unethical for me to not share my windfall.

        But I understand that not everyone has my experience. You can’t write a catch-all rule for this obligation, but it is family, and I think withholding your good fortune from your family is an exception and not the rule.

        • It seems the best way to extrapolate on that is that your family invested their time, energy and money into you. Sure you didn’t ask for it, but they made you and accepted the duty to make you an adult.

          Though you didn’t ask for it, it comes closest to natures way of obligations that keep communities trusting.

          But where does it stop?

          All sorts of people invested their time and effort in your upbringing *for free* for your child and juvenile years. But I don’t know how much obligation there is there.

          Gratitude, the long lost manner of modern civilization, would go along way in making this decision.

      • I’d make a horrible lottery winner. I’d do stupid stuff like put on a free concert with my favorite band and have an ethicist do an ethics seminar as the warm up act.

  3. I would feel as if I should do something should I win money like that, but if it was automatically assumed I wouldn’t like it. The winner of a lottery ticket may want to pay off their mortgage, or set up college funds for their grandkids, or make a large donation to a charity they care about that they wouldn’t be able to do without the lottery windfall. The winner’s needs for the money should come first, but from what I hear from a friend who was a gambling winner and a couple of people who inherited money(amounts in the thousands, not millions) there is no hesitation on the part of relatives to call right away with demands. After all you got that money ‘for free’, why not give it away?

    People become weird fast when money’s involved. It’s not all people, but many people feel they’re entitled not only to a share of a family member’s winnings or inherited money, but also a share of what they’ve worked for as well. DH has worked hard, is near retirement and we are thankfully well off, but it has nothing to do with luck but 40 years of hard work and saving instead of spending, but remarks ranging from things like ‘You’re so lucky!’ ‘You guys have it all’ all the way down to ‘It’s not fair, you have everything and I have nothing’ imply that we have more money than we’re entitled to, and why don’t we hand it over? It’s not fair!

    It’s up to the winner/inheritor/earner to decide. If I thought that someone in my family was having a hard time I would feel obligated to help out, but I don’t think they have the right to demand or presume.

  4. With a pure windfall, I don’t think there’s an obligation per se, but being generous I’ve already planned with anything in the $50 million range.
    Half because of taking the lump sum instead of gradual payout.
    Half(or so ) for taxes.
    Half of what’s left set aside for myself.
    The rest, split amongst my friends and family. Maybe a few charites. Fixed amounts, such as 100k each except for a few people who I would give more to. I’d probably give a little to some of my favorite bloggers too.

    I buy lottery tickets now and then, but I consider it an exchange of $2 for the ability to plausibly daydream about spending large amounts of cash. I don’t expect to win, and I’m well aware that on a purely monetary basis it’s a loss. Plausible hopes have an emotional pay off that’s worth more to me than the amount I spend on the tickets.s.

  5. A few years ago I inherited cash and a house, worth about $800,000, from my aunt. My siblings, who had not contacted her for many years, inherited nothing. I decided that the best path for me was to pay off our mortgage, and put aside some money for savings and a trip, then allocate gifts to my 3 (middle-aged, employed) siblings and 2 young adult children, according to their needs.
    The response from my siblings and their partners was rage, greed and jealousy because I didn’t split the inheritance equally with them. They threatened me with expulsion from the family if I didn’t acquiesce to their demands. Despite intense emotional pain and grief, I didn’t give in, but distributed the gifts as originally intended.
    One brother did not bother to thank me for the gift.
    My siblings and I have been estranged since this happened.
    As a result, I have no contact with any members of my extended family.

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