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Annie's mailbox: Brother-in-law is petty and selfish

Dear Annie: Two years ago, my husband's brother, "Paul," told us it would be a good idea to buy their parents a house. I'm not sure why. Although the family home was not in great condition, the mortgage was paid and the place suited my in-laws' needs.

Nonetheless, my husband agreed to pay $350 a month toward this massive expenditure and said an attorney should draw up the paperwork, so both Paul and my husband were protected if anything went wrong.

A couple of months went by and suddenly, Paul had a house picked out, an offer was made, and he was asking my husband to sign the contract. The cost of the house was nearly double what my husband had agreed to. When we asked about talking to an attorney, Paul absolutely refused.

When my husband insisted on seeking legal counsel, Paul sent him a nasty e-mail, saying their parents deserved this house. He decided to buy the place by himself and hasn't spoken to my husband since. He won't even come to any family gatherings if we are there.

We have three small children. My husband just finished paying off his student loans. We are trying to save for our retirement and our children's educations. Where does it say that we owe his parents a new house? — Confused in Illinois

Dear Confused: You don't owe your in-laws a new home, especially if they already have one and you cannot afford to contribute much. Paul obviously wanted to be the hero, which is fine, but he made sure your husband could not participate. He is avoiding you because he feels guilty.

Let your husband decide if he is willing to make any effort to reconcile with his brother. The rest is up to Paul. We recommend you stay out of the middle.

Dear Annie: You have printed letters in the past about how to teach children about giving at Christmastime. Here's what I did:

Instead of going downtown to see Santa, we went shopping for toys to donate, then volunteered at our local Forgotten Children's Fund. This is an organization in the Seattle area that raises money to buy toys and clothing for families who would otherwise not have Christmas gifts. Volunteers are assigned a family, knowing only their ages and clothing size. We then shop and wrap gifts for that entire family.

I was truly amazed to see my son and his friend get so involved. The next year, his friend brought his family and more friends. Then they brought more people. It was wonderful and really taught my son a valuable lesson about giving and realizing how fortunate he really is. — Santa's Helper in Seattle

Dear Seattle: There are many such organizations around the country helping the poor during the holiday season, regardless of religious affiliation. They often are sponsored by Catholic Charities, the Salvation Army and local newspapers. Folks, if you can afford to buy gifts or simply have the time to volunteer, please do so.

Annie's Mailbox is written by Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar, longtime editors of the Ann Landers column. Please e-mail your questions to, or write to: Annie's Mailbox, P.O. Box 118190, Chicago, IL 60611. © Creators Syndicate Inc.