My brother died last year and bequeathed his entire (small) estate to me. He had one child, a daughter, to whom he left nothing. Feeling sorry for her, I told my niece I would give her half of the estate. (None of this becomes official until April.) But my circumstances have changed dramatically. My husband was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He is undergoing treatment, but we face a very uncertain financial future. I would now like to keep the entire estate. My niece is doing well financially, with many earning years ahead of her, unlike me. Is there a way to tell her I’ve changed my mind so she won’t hate me forever?


I’m sorry your brother put you in this awkward position with your niece. (And even sorrier that the picture has grown more complicated with your husband’s diagnosis.) Leaving his child nothing was extreme. And now, after trying to make things right, you have to land a second blow.

These two disappointments will almost inevitably bleed together for your niece — each one reanimating the other. So, I think you should convey your reasonable decision to her by acknowledging the likely consequences of everyone’s decisions.

Say, “I’m sorry if your father’s will hurt you. I promised you half of my inheritance out of love for you and hoping to heal any pain the will caused. But my husband is seriously ill, and I can’t afford to give you the money now. If I can make it up to you later, or in my estate, I will do it.”

This may require a direct conversation with your children, if you have any. But that’s the best approach with family estate plans anyway. For readers worrying about a verbal contract here, let’s assume B’s promise falls into one of several exceptions that requires agreements to be in writing. I wish you and your husband well, B.

Credit…Christoph Niemann

The bartender at a bar I go to weekly has started to spot me when I sit down and make the drink I usually order. I hate this! I’d like the chance to tell him what I want to drink, even if it’s the same thing 95 percent of the time. Am I crazy to dislike this?


Not at all — though you and I are very different drinkers. You like the freedom to think of yourself as a gadfly who orders a Manhattan one week and a Mai Tai the next, even if you aren’t. I prefer the warm acknowledgment that comes with a bartender mixing a gin martini for me without my saying a word.

When you next see this bartender making your regular drink for you, say: “I’d like to try something different tonight, please.” You’re paying for that right. And it will probably prompt him to ask you what you want to drink in the future. (Just say it with a smile because he likely means well.)

I am in my 30s with a well-paying job and no debt. My parents live on a fixed income with shaky retirement savings. I see them frequently. The problem: They keep buying things for me and my kids (groceries, toys, clothes, etc.) and refuse to let me pay for anything. I’ve told them we don’t need gifts, but they ignore me. I feel awful. What should I do?


Sit them down one quiet evening and say: “It’s largely thanks to you and your unwavering support that I’m in such good financial condition for my age. I hope you know that. And I think it’s time we put our relationship on more equal footing.”

Then, depending on your means (and inclination), buy them something you know they will appreciate: new winter coats, a gorgeous filet mignon from the butcher or a sunny weekend in Coral Gables. No need to become a spendthrift. Just try a loving gesture. It may wake them up to your well-founded gratitude and the true financial picture here.

I took my boyfriend to the theater as a gift. The people who sat next to us — our age (Gen X), well-dressed and drinking champagne — smelled so bad that it ruined the experience for us. I am not sensitive to body odor, and I nearly gagged. My boyfriend is more sensitive, and he had to run to the men’s room several times. It was a sold-out performance, and our seats cost me a lot. What should we have done?


You may have created a new system for theater reviewing. “This play is so good it’s worth gagging four times!” If this happens again, report the problem to the box office immediately. A “sold-out performance” does not mean that every ticket buyer showed up.

If there are no seats available, or if the ones offered are terrible, ask for replacement tickets on another evening. Yes, that would be inconvenient, but better than running to the restrooms all night. It seems unlikely to me that ticket holders would be put out of their seats for a subjective matter like body odor. (And by “body odor” did you really mean overwhelming perfume?)

For help with your awkward situation, send a question to, to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.