When working on your estate plan, you probably have heirs to whom you want to leave an inheritance—likely your children. In deciding how to distribute assets, many people simplify the distribution process by dividing their assets equally among each child. The thought is that ‘equal is fair.’ However, for some people, that may not be the best way to appropriate your legacy. When you need help making decisions about asset allocation after you pass away, it’s important to get advice and guidance from the NYC NYC state planning attorneys at Landskind & Ricaforte Law Group, P.C.
Is Equal Always Fair?
In an effort to treat all your children fairly, you may believe that leaving each child an equal share of your estate is the most proper and impartial way to bequeath your legacy to your family. However, each family comes with unique dynamics, and sometimes equal isn’t always fair. It’s important to consider each child’s individual needs and circumstances when leaving assets because their situations may differ and require dissimilar inheritances.
Examples of Why Equal May Not Always Be Fair
- One child needs more financial assistance than another. For example, one child has graduated college and is starting their career; one is just becoming a teenager.
- One child has special needs, a disability, or a medical condition requiring extra financial support to ensure they are cared for.
- One child devoted more time, energy, and money to taking care of the decedent.
- One child has been involved in the family business or farm.
- One child has won the lottery, won big at a casino, or received a special inheritance from another person or relative.
- One child has substance abuse problems or mental health issues that would make it unwise to leave them a significant amount of money.
Leaving an Unequal Division of Assets: What to Consider
If you decide not to leave equal assets to each of your children, there are some things you should consider to avoid challenges to your will and creating dissension in your family:
- Make sure you clearly express your wishes in your estate plan documents. Don’t use ambiguous language, and make sure there’s no question about what you want for each child.
- Tell your children about your plans ahead of time. They may not appreciate or agree with your planned distribution of assets, but you may avoid creating bad feelings among siblings.
- Be clear if you choose to omit a child from your will. Your language should clearly express your intentions. However, don’t explain your reasoning in the will. It’s better to discuss the exclusion in person or in a letter rather than in the document. The reasons you give could be used by the excluded child to contest the will by arguing that your justifications aren’t relevant or applicable.
- Consider leaving the omitted child a smaller inheritance or a sentimental asset. Include a “no contest” clause that states the asset will be retracted if that child challenges the will.
- Point out that one child was given a substantial amount of money in the past. For example, a parent may have provided financial support for one child to help with college, to help with a downpayment on a house, or to help with the purchase of a new car.
Reasons to Give an Equal Distribution of Assets
- Each child has demonstrated the ability to handle money responsibly.
- No child has a long-term medical condition or issue that you are worried about covering in the future.
- No child needs to rely on you for financial assistance.
- Each child feels equally loved and appreciated, and there is no family conflict.