Many parents who have more than one child believe it’s only fair to leave each of their children an equal amount of money and/or other assets in their estate plan. However, “equal” doesn’t always mean “fair.”
There are a number of reasons why parents might believe it’s appropriate to leave their children unequal inheritances. Say you have two children. One may be older and considerably more financially successful than the other. Perhaps one child has medical or other issues that will prevent them from ever having an easy time financially. Maybe you’ve helped out one child more financially throughout their lives than the others.
Taking care of the child who’s taken care of you
One reason that many parents decide to leave a particular child more than the other(s) is the caregiving help that child has provided. In a 2018 survey, two-thirds of Americans who were at least 55 agreed that their children that act as caregivers should receive a larger inheritance than their siblings.
Determining that the child who’s been your primary caregiver should receive a larger inheritance is one thing. Getting your other children to be okay with that is another.
Some siblings are very understanding. They realize that their brother or sister spent considerable time and effort helping out a parent in their later years, maybe even giving up their job, and agree that they should be rewarded. Others might feel that they weren’t in a position to be a caregiver – maybe because they were busy with their own family or lived too far away. They don’t feel they should be “punished” for that.
Communication is key to avoiding disputes
If you decide to leave your caregiving child a larger inheritance, it’s best to discuss your decision with everyone while you’re still around and give your other children a chance to express their feelings. Finding out after your gone is more likely to create friction and maybe even suspicion that the caregiving child exerted undue influence on the parent.
There are alternatives, such as drawing up a contract with the child who’s caring for you to compensate them while you’re still alive. However, many parents and children feel uncomfortable with such a “business-like arrangement.”
With experienced legal guidance and good communication with your children, you have the best chance of arriving at a solution that you believe is fair and they come to accept without family tumult.