When creating an estate plan most people are determined to treat all their children equally. However, in some cases there are legitimate reasons to leave a disproportionate share of one’s wealth to one child. For example, one child may be better able to support herself as a surgeon when compared with her schoolteacher sibling. Proceeding with this same example, parents may have provided greater economic support to one child then to another (covering the cost of obtaining a medical degree versus the cost of a teaching credential).
In some instances one beneficiary may be capable of managing an inheritance and another beneficiary may have an investment history that suggests their inheritance be distributed to them in a controlled manner via a lifetime trust. Or, a parent may choose to reward their children differently based on how much they helped their parent during the parent’s lifetime or during a difficult time in the parent’s life.
There are steps you can take to protect your estate from a legal challenge and to reduce the likelihood of hurt feelings. At the top of the list is to discuss with family members your estate plan details and your reason for any unequal bequests. If you don’t want to have this difficult conversation, a recent Wall Street Journal article suggests that you “write a letter or make a video elaborating on the reasons and thought process behind your plan and making it clear that these decisions are yours alone.”
In summary, while you may love your children equally, in some cases it may be reasonable to structure bequests that are not equal so long as your estate plan is drawn in a careful and clear manner.