Smart Money: Charges pile up from tow company


DEAR BRUCE >> My car was towed recently from a private lot. I had been given verbal permission to park there, but unbeknownst to me, I did indeed need a pass, as well. To make a long story short, my car was gone when I went to get it 10 days and $350 later.

My point of contention is that I was never notified that it had been towed, so the daily charges were adding up. The tow company had my name and address, so I'm sure they could have called me. A $100 charge would have been fair enough. The company told me a registered letter had "just been sent." Weeks later I have yet to receive one. Do I have any recourse?

— V.M.

DEAR V.M. >> I sympathize with you. What you can do is file a complaint with your city, explaining what happened and saying you would like some relief. As you say, the tow company could have notified you. It had your address, and 10 days is an unreasonable period of time.

You say a $100 charge would have been fair. I think you are being very generous. I would insist that the city approach the tow company, as they regularly do to mediate affairs of this kind. When I had this problem, the city moved to reduce the assessment by two-thirds. The tow business doesn't want to jeopardize its franchise with the city. Therefore, I am sure it will negotiate.

DEAR BRUCE >> Can I get insurance on my home that was labeled sinkhole two months ago?

— Reader

DEAR READER >> What do you mean your home was "labeled" sinkhole? Does that mean you have a sinkhole exposed and it is deemed a hazard? In that case, I doubt seriously you can get coverage now. It's like buying insurance for fire damage as you watch the house burn. But by all means, inquire. Keep in mind that not only is it immoral, but it's also a crime if you knowingly apply for sinkhole insurance when you have the problem already.

DEAR BRUCE >> My father had me put my sister and myself on the deed to his house years ago as a remainder trust so that my mother could stay in the house as long as she lived. After she passed away, the house then reverted to us. We shared equally in the proceeds of the sale after her death. Now, we wonder what our tax liability is and if we would have been better off just inheriting the house from them.

— J.D.

DEAR J.D. >> Clearly, you would have been far better off to have the house coming to you not as a reversion from the remainder trust, but rather as part of an estate from your mother. You would have had as much as a $5 million tax exemption, which you didn't have because of the way it was set up.

That being the case, there is no way you can undo it.

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