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Taking Parents Out of the Tuition Equation

How and Why to Ask Older Relatives for Help

When my aunt died last year, she left a surprise contribution to my daughter’s college education. The caveat: I wasn’t allowed to touch the funds. My feelings might be hurt, but I was ecstatic. My daughter’s tuition would be paid with little effort on my part. Please don’t think I’m crass or heartless; bypassing parents in monetary gift giving is a great idea.


I did help with some details. My uncle had to be careful about when to give my daughter money, as too much might affect her scholarships. The cash was in a no-interest checking account, so I suggested he move it into a liquid money market account to await periodic distribution. The financial adviser my uncle hired validated my advice, which upped my status a bit.
But then I stepped out of the picture. By doing that, a parent allows both giver and receiver to benefit from tax allowances. Transferring money to a young family member also could reduce the check beneficiaries write to Uncle Sam later. Plus, this process taught my daughter how to ask for financial help; she lets my uncle know when she needs more money.
In fact, your young attachments could approach family elders who might not know a need for college funds exists. If your child is too small, you could join the excursion. No matter who talks, present your needs honestly and humbly. Nothing turns off an elder more than descendants who feel they have a right to the money.
You also need to give your relatives a way out. After asking for help, tell them you don’t know about their financial situation. If they really can’t help, thank them, share a cup of coffee and leave with a smile.
If they’re saving money to bequeath to your child later, let them know the gift would be of better use sooner. Don’t go into all the tax incentives or the financial aid eligibility, even though it’s probably on the top of your mind.
Your elders might want to ponder the situation or want professional advice first. Again, step back. Let the experts speak for you.
Finally, a simple thank you — from both you and the recipient — will suffice in most cases. Sometimes, as it was with my daughter and me, you miss out on thanking a person for her graciousness. So a note to elders with healthy egos: The ability to be thanked in person is the best reason to give now.

Linda Goin is a free-lance writer who focuses on personal finance and visual communications. She completed her college career this year with a graduate degree in American history at age 50.

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