When you’re the parent of adult children who have very different personalities, experiences and needs, trying to divide your estate in your will amongst your heirs fairly can produce a lot of angst – because you know that “fair” and “equal” aren’t always the same things.
Ultimately, what you decide to do with your estate is entirely up to you, but there are times when it simply makes sense to leave your heirs different amounts in your will. Consider these three examples:
1. They have different financial needs
If one child has significant financial needs, such as ongoing medical expenses or significant educational debts, while the others do not, it may be fair to leave that child a larger share of your estate. Similarly, if all of your children are established in their careers but the youngest is still in college, it may be fair to leave that child more than the others to “level the playing field” and ensure a good start in life.
2. You have different relationships with them
If one child has contributed more to your comfort or care, for example, by helping with your doctor’s appointments, cleaning or managing your finances, it may be perfectly reasonable to leave that child a larger share of your estate as a reward for all the effort and time they’ve spent.
Alternatively, if one child has been estranged from the family and you, you may be entirely justified in excluding them from your estate plans.
3. There are other financial concerns
If you have a family business, you may want to involve the child who has been most involved in the business a larger share of your estate through proper succession planning – since that also gives your business a better chance of enduring through the next generation.
On the other hand, if you have a child who has “borrowed” extensively against their inheritance to finance their lifestyle, it might only be fair to your other children to deduct that debt from what you leave the “borrower” in your will.
Determining whether it is fair to leave your children different amounts in your will depends on various factors, including your personal values, the relationships with children and their financial situations. Such a decision can provoke a lot of hard feelings and even lead to estate disputes, however, so make sure that you fully understand all of your legal options.