in Ethicist

The Ethicist: 20 November 2017

Can I Let My Friend Pay Off My Mortgages?

Question:

My closest American friend here in Japan, of more than 30 years, is worried about me and wants to pay off my mortgages. He says he doesn’t want to be paid back; he just wants to make sure I am out of debt before he dies. He is not dying, but he is 98. He has been mentioning this more and more, and says he wants to write a check the next time we meet. I never talk about this with him unless he brings up the subject. The amount he would give me would come to about 3 percent of his assets. It would have no impact on his financial needs. And frankly, it would be helpful for me…. I have a gnawing feeling that I would be taking advantage of him…. he is not suffering from dementia…. he depends on my help more and more… Should I decline and feel noble? Or should I be practical and take the offer….

Correct answer:

Talk to the old man’s children, who otherwise would stand to inherit his estate when he dies. If you’re afraid to speak with his children about it now, while he’s still alive, then that is probably a sign that you know something is wrong. Explain the situation to them and weigh their response. If they reject the idea that their father could give you money of his own volition and threaten you in some way, you don’t necessarily have to comply with their demands, but if they act unreasonably, that may be an indication of why their father isn’t entirely keen on leaving everything to them.

Question:

I recently spoke on the phone with an old friend from college. During the call she mentioned that her son is taking a drug for A.D.H.D. and that it really helps him focus. I know there is controversy surrounding this class of drugs, but I didn’t feel comfortable bringing that up. I assume she has looked into the pros and cons, and I know her mother is a psychiatrist. But should I mention my concerns nevertheless? Or should my concerns about seeming a busybody outweigh concerns about her son’s future health?

Correct answer:

This is a great opportunity to mind your own business.

Question:

I teach at a prestigious private art school. Every year, we take in 600 or so young people with little understanding of how the arts work as an industry. We charge a very high tuition, offer almost no scholarships and load them up with a lot of debt. Even though we claim to offer “career planning,” the illusions of our students are not addressed. Our graduates, even those with a degree in design, rarely find a job in their field. Those who do rarely last long before realizing that they are in a hopeless situation. Most have given up on art … By preying on their naïveté and ignorance, I feel that we are essentially robbing our students…. Is it wrong to take the “caveat emptor” approach and let these naïve young people continue to pay me through their student loans?

Correct answer:

Don’t lie to your students. In general, don’t lie to anybody, but especially don’t lie to your students. If they ask you a question that isn’t directly related to the curriculum and that you strongly prefer not to answer honestly, don’t answer it.