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For parents, issues surrounding equality and estate planning can be complex

Anyone who grew up with one or more siblings can likely recall a time or two when you felt jealous of a brother or sister or that your parents favored a sibling over you. Many parents work very hard to try to create a family environment in which each child feels that they are equally loved, appreciated and supported. However as children grow and age, inevitably, there will be times when one child needs more attention or financial support.

For parents who plan to leave assets to their children, attempting to so in a fair and equal manner can be challenging and, in some cases, may not make sense.

For most parents, inheritance matters can be addressed in a will. As with all estate planning issues, decisions related to the distribution of assets, real estate and personal belongings is highly personal. For parents who want to try to be as fair as possible, leaving each child an equal amount may be the best option. However, equally distributing assets between children is only truly fair if every child has received the same type of financial assistance throughout their childhood and adult years.

Say for example, that one child chose to go to a more expensive private school or that one child didn't make as much money and relied upon his or her parent's for financial assistance longer. In these types of situations, parents can account for any inequities in financial assistance in a will by increasing or reducing a child’s inheritance.

In some cases, parents may intentionally choose not to distribute assets equally among children. For example, if one child is more financially well off than a sibling, parents may decide to leave more money to the financially-disadvantaged child. The same is likely to be true if one child has special needs or some other type of medical condition or disability.

No matter what parents choose to do with regard to the distribution of assets, it's wise to discuss such matters with children well in advance of one's death. If parents are up-front and forthright about their plans and intentions, children will hopefully be less likely to quarrel and hold grudges against one another.

Source: New Jersey, 101.5, "Being fair in estate planning," Karin Price Mueller, Jan. 4, 2016

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