Are unequal bequests to your children fair?

When you’re a parent, you never want to play favorites with your children – and most parents worry about how to be fair to their children in their estate plans, as well.

While the conventional wisdom has often leaned toward leaving each child equal shares, the “one-size-fits-all” approach may not always be the best choice. If you’re trying to sort through the dilemma of whether to leave equal bequests to your adult children or not, here are some things you might want to consider:

Individual and unique needs

One of the most common reasons to consider unequal bequests is the differing financial needs of your children. Your adult children may each be in vastly different situations, influenced by everything from their career choices and talents to their personal entanglements and health.

For example, one child may have a heavy student loan burden and be struggling to establish themselves, while the other may have a wildly successful career already. Or, one child may have struggled with financial independence due to medical problems, while the other is healthy and able to provide for themselves.

Leaving a larger share to a child who needs it more can help them maintain financial stability or achieve important life goals. It’s only reasonable to consider leaving the child with greater needs a larger portion of the estate to help them alleviate this burden.

Contributions to the family

Family dynamics can vary widely. Sometimes, one member of a family steps up and puts in a lot more effort than the others in managing a situation.

For example, maybe one of your adult children moved in with you to help you (or you and your spouse) in your declining years so that you can age in place instead of going to a nursing home.  Perhaps one of your children played a substantial role in keeping your family business afloat when you retired. Or, maybe one of your children took over the care of a disabled sibling when you were no longer able to do so.

It’s perfectly acceptable to acknowledge these contributions through an unequal distribution of your estate.

Hopes for the future

Sometimes, parents decide to focus their estate planning around their hopes for their adult children’s futures.

For example, unequal bequests can ensure that a child with special needs receives sufficient funds for their care, therapy, or other necessary services. This approach safeguards your child’s quality of life long after you are gone.

You may also wish to support your children’s educational aspirations. Your bequests can be used to provide strategic financial support to those children who have chosen longer and more expensive educational paths, such as medical school or postgraduate degrees.

Unequal bequests, when thoughtfully considered and communicated, can be a fair and practical solution that addresses the individual financial needs, contributions, and circumstances of your children. Before making any decisions, however, you may want to get some legal guidance to discuss how you can best navigate this situation and achieve your goals.

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