When You Can’t Treat All Your Children The Same—Unequal Inheritances

Many parents strive to treat their children the same in their estate plans, dividing assets equally between them. There is nothing wrong with this, but in certain situations it may not represent the ideal, let alone the fairest, approach.

Family discussion
(Photo credit: Muffet)

For instance, one child may earn significantly less than other children. Or one child might have four children of his or her own, whereas another child has no children at all. In some families, one child lives far away from the parents while another lives nearby and provides a great deal of physical and emotional support. Sadly, in some families, a child has disappointed his or her parents so often and so severely that the parents see no alternative but to disinherit that child entirely.

These are but a few examples of situations where leaving unequal inheritances among children makes sense. The problem is, treating children unequally can lead to hard feelings and even legal challenges by the child who feels she or he has not been treated fairly.

If you are considering leaving unequal inheritances, here are some steps you can take to help ensure that your wishes are indeed carried out.

  • Discuss your plans with all of your children. This will help them understand your decisions and, hopefully, come to terms with them—as opposed to being surprised when they learn about them after you have passed away.
  • Prove that you were of “sound mind” when you made your will and your overall plan. This can be accomplished by obtaining evaluations from your doctor and a psychiatrist in advance of signing your documents. Creating a series of documents over several years, each of which is somewhat different in language but consistent in intent, is another strategy to prove soundness of mind.
  • If one of your children earns much less than the others, consider providing support for that child while you are alive. If one of your children lives nearby and has assisted you over the years in a variety of ways, you might want to consider rewarding him or her during your lifetime as well.
  • Include clauses dictating that disputes must be settled through mediation rather than litigation.
  • Consider what is known as a no-contest clause. A no-contest clause generally forfeits a beneficiary’s interests if he or she challenges the will or other planning documents.

If you are considering making unequal distributions to your children, or to discuss any issue relating to your plan, we are here for you. Simply give us a call at (626) 696-3145.

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