Advice wanted: I promised, now I've changed my mind!

How to handle this promise?

Dopers, some ethical advice please!

Last year I was living in the UK, and my brother (a big Beatles fan) emailed me about a signing Paul McCartney was going to do to promote his new kids book. ‘If you have nothing else to do, it might be fun to see if you can get in’ said the email – note there was no request here. I emailed back, said I would try to go, and joked that it might be a cool present for my nephew (his son) although it would be hard to protect it from his dad.

So, I got up around 5am, a hour into town, then waited in line outside a store in London on a cold December morning for almost 3 hours – and received a wristband which got me entry to the signing a couple of days later. Juggled some work commitments around, another 2 hour wait, and then I finally got to shake hands and carry off the book.

At some point during this 6-7 hour marathon, I began to think about how rashly I had promised to give the book away. I don’t have kids, and so had automatically assumed that my nephew was the only logical place for the book to go – but the experience now means the book has greater meaning to me, and I would really like to pass it to one of my kids.

However, I do feel I promised to give it to my nephew – and so apparently had my brother and his wife. Fast forward to Christmas in New Zealand; I thought I had packed the book but had instead forgotten, Once all the presents had been handed out, they followed me to another room to ask where the book was – which does grate just a little as the book’s worth several hundred pounds, and I would not have wanted to give that as just a standard gift at one Christmas

My nephew’s only 3 anyway and I am concerned my brother will take ownership of the book and put it away with all his own memorabilia (he already has one Paul McCartney signature).

So, as I said, I kind of feel like I did promise to give the book away, and I still think I should, while chalking it up to experience of not being so rashly generous in the future. This does not make me happy, but I do kind of feel it’s the right thing to do.

However, if I do this, I really want to make sure the gift goes to my nephew, and not my brother.

I am thinking that I will write a letter to my nephew gifting it to him, and telling him about the experience, what I said to Sir Paul: “It’s a pleasure to meet you’, what I really wanted to say to Sir Paul: 'You have a large chunk of scone stuck to the corner of your mouth’, and include this letter with all the provenance stuff I collected (including an article mentioning only 300 people got in that morning).

I also want to include a request that if my nephew ever wanted to sell the book, that I get first right of refusal, as it has meaning to me as well, and I’d like to see it stay in the family.

Do you think this solution is fair? Can you suggest any other ways of handling it?

Jesus wept. A gift is a gift. If you promised it, you have to give it, despite your cold feet because of its value - and you don’t get to attach liens or dictate caveats about how it should be used. Fork it over to your nephew.

No issue with giving it (as I mentioned) - but how I can I ensure my nephew gets it, and not my brother?

FWIW, I would definitely wait until the kid is old enough to understand, appreciate, and protect the valuable item. Tell that to his parents, too. There’s no point in giving it to him now - if he’s allowed to have it, he’ll wreck it, and if it’s put away for safekeeping, he’ll just think of it as a piece of furniture. It won’t be special.

When the kid is a bit older (say 8-11), tell him the story of going to get it. If he says “Wow!”, then you can give it to him, and he’ll treasure it. If not, maybe wait a few more years. It may never be something he’s terribly interested in. However, if it does become something he’s interested in, then it will make you feel better about giving to him - it will probably feel like it’s going to good hands.

I would put some importance on the promise you made to give it to him, but I would wait to see if it is an appropriate gift first. If not, I would feel no guilt about changing the recipient. If you brother gives you grief, tell him that his son didn’t want it and if he (your brother) wants it, he should have waited his own ass out in line.


I’m inclined to agree w/ Mischievous.
I have a similar situation. Just after WWII my Dad and a service buddy started a cabinet shop. One of the first things he built was a small drop leaf table, made of wormy chesnut, that he gave to my Mother. The table is beautifully crafted and he carved his name and “1946” into one of the drawer backs.
I have that table and a couple years ago I told my Niece that I’d like her to have it. I thought she was the most responsible younger person in our family and I hoped that she would cherish it as I do. Subsequent conversations left me in some doubt about this conclusion. She barely remembers her Grandfather and my Brother has often expressed his negative opinions about our Dad. In addition she has two small children that, I fear, might damage the table. Obviously the table is important to me, it’s the only thing we have that he crafted w/ his own hands. It’s probably only worth a couple hundred dollars on the market, but it’s only one of a very few family heirlooms.
I decided to keep it. My brother knows I want his daughter to have it, so if I die I’m pretty sure she’ll get it, but I’m not ready to give it up just yet.
Hang on to the book and make your decision later, perhaps when you nephew is older and you can judge his appreciation. I fully understand the importance of keeping your word, but it sounds like your brother might have been using his son to manipulate you into getting the autograph for him and that needs to be considered. It’s a tough situation to be in.

I apologise for the “Jesus wept” comment: too many windows open, and I thought I was still in the Pit. Mea culpa.

Hey, that’s OK! It was quite blunt, but definately helped me see things from another perspective, so all good! Thanks for the suggestions, I like the idea of holding onto it until he’s old enought that I can sit down with him and talk to him about it, and I will tell his parents that’s what I will be doing.

Since I don’t live inside your, your brother’s or his wife’s heads, I won’t venture to guess how any of you translate a joke that an item would make a good present into a promise to give the present. But, if you feel obligated to give it, then give it. That being said, your brother and his wife have no business putting any pressure on you. Demanding a gift, on one’s own behalf or on behalf of someone else, is tacky.

A three year-old is too young to have anything worth several hundred pounds/dollars, especially a book that he’s likely to want to read and re-read. I suggest you give the kid a non-autographed copy of the book so that he can enjoy it without worrying about ruining it, and when he’s older and can properly take care of the item give him the autographed one. And if his father doesn’t like it, tell him to piss off. As for the right of first refusal of sale, I don’t see why that would be a problem other than your probable inability to bind a minor to it legally. If the parents are going to be pushy enough to demand it then they’re probably pushy enough to dick you on the right of refusal. Which is another good reason to wait until the kid is older to give it to him.

If you have a will, you need to write the bequest into it. Your jurisdiction may also allow you to write a non-testamentary letter to dispose of property like the table without going through a formal will/probate process. If it’s important enough to you and to her, then take the step you need to make sure it happens.

If it’s a book you think your nephew will actually read, then buy another copy and give him both; explain that the unsigned one is for reading, but he should take very good care of the other one because it could be worth lots of money.

To a three or four year old? Nuh uh, nothing doing. Take very good care of to a four year old can include bury in the back yard amoung other possibilities.

I think my kids would have understood the instruction at that age, although I would have expected them to entrust the actual safekeeping to a responsible adult.

In my view, you pretty much acknowledged here that it is a present both for the nephew and the brother. Just hand it over. Trying something clever, like with attempts at legalistic assurances will only get you grief. Family is family. At some point you have to trust them and actively forgive their minor faults and transgressions. And if your brother claims it for himself (in fact if not explicitly), I think you just have to let it go.

Buy him a “now” copy and will the signed one to him. That way, you know your brother won’t get his mitts on it and you will have custody of it until you determine it will be appreciated by the nephew.

I like this idea too.

Especially if you all can start reading the book to him, and it becomes one of his favorite books, or at least a memory of a book that was read to him as a tiny child.

When you do give him the signed copy many years later, it will mean a LOT more if he actually remembers people reading it to him or is one of his favorite books.

Simple yet elegant. I like this solution. Your nephew gets his book - and if he’s been promised it, believe me, three year olds don’t forget, and they can get mightily upset if someone says they can have something and then reneges - and you can give him the signed copy later if you think he’d appreciate it. {How good are you at forging Ringo Starr’s signature?}

Realistically, unless your nephew grows up to be a big fan of old-fashioned music, a children’s book signed by Paul McCartney isn’t going to mean very much to him. It’s the equivalent of your dad passing on his big collection of Benny Goodman memorabilia. I’m sure there are a **few ** 25-year-olds who would be thrilled to get an authentic Goodman signature, but most would be like “yeah, whatever” and throw it in a box somewhere.

Give the book to your brother. Let him enjoy it with his son. Let him share his love of the Beatles with his little boy. That’s what will make the book meaningful to the kid twenty years from now – having it be something that he associates with his Dad.

Don’t spoil the gift by attaching conditions. Do let your brother know how much the book is worth as a collectable. But whether your brother buys a temporary substitute or not is his chioce to make, not yours.

Make it a college graduation gift. At that point he might value it enough not use it as a coaster, stick it under a table leg or use it as a lunch table. If you give it to him before then, I can pretty much guarantee it won’t survive.
So keep it for him. Tell his parents you have it in a safe place and that you will keep it well for him. They can’t get mad without making it obvious that they really want it for themselves.

OK I missed that it was a children’s book, so maybe it shouldn’t wait. I like the idea of giving him an unsigned copy to enjoy…until he graduates from college.

Also, I don’t get a “promise” out of the exchange that you described. Unless you left out that part of the conversation. It sounds like he suggested that you go. And you said it might make a good gift. That’s not a promise, that’s a comment.

Where’s the AGHAST emoticon when I need it.

Dude, give the book to your nephew.

That’s what I’m getting out of this: it may be that it isn’t a set-up by your brother, but that your nephew’s been promised a present from his Aunty, can’t understand why he hasn’t got it, and is bugging hell out of his parents. Little kids fixate on this stuff like you wouldn’t believe, and they’re too young to be reasoned out of why this particular book may not be a good idea. All they know is that someone’s said they could have something, so where is it? In hindsight it may have been rash to mention to your brother that the book may have been a good present for his son, and it may have been rash of your brother to mention it to your nephew, if he did, but I’d say that if a book from Aunty’s been even semi-promised to a kid, a book ought to be delivered.