The Herald of Everett, Washington
Customer service  |  Subscribe   |   Log in or sign up   |   Advertising information   |   Contact us
Heraldnet.com

The top local business stories in your email

Contact Us:

Josh O'Connor
Publisher
Phone: 425-339-3007
joconnor@heraldnet.com

Maureen Bozlinski
General Sales Manager
Phone: 425-339-3445
Fax: 425-339-3049
mbozlinksi@heraldnet.com

Jim Davis
Editor
Phone: 425-339-3097
jdavis@heraldnet.com

Site address:
1800 41st Street, S-300,
Everett, WA 98203

Mailing address:
P.O. Box 930
Everett, WA 98206

HBJ RSS feeds

In time of need, you are your brother’s keeper

SHARE: facebook Twitter icon Linkedin icon Google+ icon Email icon |  PRINTER-FRIENDLY  |  COMMENTS
By Michelle Singletary
Syndicated Columnist
Published:
When a natural disaster strikes, our characters can be tested.
Such is the case facing members of a family who became homeless after superstorm Sandy ravaged parts of the East Coast in the fall. During a recent online discussion, I received a question from a reader asking what to do to help relatives who lost their house in New York.
But, the reader noted, the family had also "squandered" a $300,000 inheritance received a few years ago, purchasing luxury items such as "two expensive cars, a high-end computer and tech equipment, which were all also lost in the storm. This is a pattern that has been repeated a few times with this particular couple."
Unfortunately, there's wasn't enough insurance to cover the couple's losses (they didn't have flood insurance) and government support has been minimal, the family member wrote. For most homes, apartments and businesses, the only insurance protection against damage from rising water is flood insurance underwritten by the National Flood Insurance Program. Standard homeowners and renters insurance policies do not cover flood damage.
"What do I and the other concerned siblings do in such an event?" the reader asked. "We could all provide some form of help, though none of us is wealthy by any means. I find myself debating not funding my child's college education for a year to help them out. But I become so angry at the thought of all the money they wasted."
Hurricane Sandy damaged many areas in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York. Insured losses from the storm are estimated to range from $10 billion to $20 billion, according to Eqecat Inc., a risk-modeling firm. Eqecat estimates that the total cost of the storm, including damage not covered by insurance, could be as high as $50 billion.
Even the most financially savvy families can find themselves struggling after a natural disaster. Despite having the most comprehensive insurance policies, you can have out-of-pocket expenses that can significantly drain your savings. If you are unprepared for something like Hurricane Sandy, the financial aftermath can be devastating.
I understand the frustration coming from the siblings who want to help but fear they will be rewarding bad behavior. It's especially hard to be magnanimous when you've been saving and pinching pennies while all the time the family now in need has been living large. You planned but they partied.
I often receive email from readers frustrated at the bailout of people they feel have been irresponsible. They complain that they've done everything right and now the reckless are being rewarded.
But isn't that what life is? Not fair. You do the right thing and then are faced with a test like this. You are in a position to help. So do you? Do you give to those who didn't save or act fiscally responsible? Do you help the seemingly unworthy?
Yes, you do. You help if you can afford to provide assistance. For one thing, you help because perhaps there was a time -- or will be a time -- that you received help when you didn't deserve it.
Before you burst a vein, I'm not saying you shouldn't be responsible or discerning with your financial aid. But we can't have a test for who deserves help and who doesn't. It's inevitable that when you give, you will be giving to someone who should have done better. Still, you give from the heart simply because of the need.
I think the siblings should pitch in to help the couple if they can afford it. And if the way to afford helping is to pull back on contributing to a college savings plan, I'd be OK with such a decision. I might not stop contributing for a year, but I could see earmarking some of the money to help the family. You can catch up later even if it means you have to cut some of your expenses. The sacrifice is for a good cause. Besides, think of the example you are setting for your children. You are showing them that you are your brother's keeper.
This isn't the time to punish the couple. They need a decent place to live. They need help getting back on their feet. Later, when they are settled, you might suggest they practice better money management skills to prevent them from having to lean so heavily on the rest of the family when trouble hits.
So if you can, put your anger aside. Don't give grudgingly. What you do under this type of circumstance speaks volumes about your character. Even if the couple returns to their spendthrift ways, you did the right thing and that's a priceless reward.

Michelle Singletary: singletarym@washpost.com.
Washington Post Writers Group
Story tags » Disasters (general)Personal FinanceFamily

MORE HBJ HEADLINES

CALENDAR

Share your comments: Log in using your HeraldNet account or your Facebook, Twitter or Disqus profile. Comments that violate the rules are subject to removal. Please see our terms of use. Please note that you must verify your email address for your comments to appear.

You are logged in using your HeraldNet ID. Click here to update your profile. | Log out.

Our new comment system is not supported in IE 7. Please upgrade your browser here.

comments powered by Disqus

Market roundup