Three experts weigh in on how to handle repaying a debt to a friend.
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Illustration of money
Credit: Carey Sookocheff

Q: A friend lent me money and said I could pay it back slowly. Then I received an unexpected inheritance. Must I tell her about it?

“Did you specify—either verbally or in writing—that the terms of the loan were dependent on your financial situation? Unless the answer is yes, then legally you don’t have to tell your friend about the inheritance. That said, this is a situation where ethics and the law aren’t necessarily the same. I would pay back the money right away because that’s my personal belief about what’s right. But everyone is different. Morals are subjective; laws are not.”

Mahir S. Nisar

A commercial-and civil-litigation attorney in Westbury, New York.

“You have an ethical responsibility to be honest and fair with your friend. She helped you when you really needed it, and she was loyal to you. You should be trustworthy in return. Tell her about your windfall and propose a few new timetables for repayment of the loan, including the possibility of an immediate lump-sum settlement.”

Robert M. Steele, Ph.D.

The director of the Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics at DePauw University, in Greencastle, Indiana.

“Share the news with your friend. If you don’t and she somehow finds out about it, she may feel taken advantage of financially, or she may feel hurt that you didn’t trust her enough to divulge the information. In a sense, you would be sending an implicit message that you think your pal is miserly, when in fact she has been nothing but generous.”

Carlin Flora

A psychology writer based in New York City and the author of Friendfluence: The Surprising Ways Friends Make Us Who We Are ($26,