Every family is different, and your estate plan will be unique because of the specific needs of your family. While many families may choose an even distribution for their assets - where every child gets an even percentage of the estate - there are often situations where the distributions aren't even, and if your children don't know to expect this ahead of time, it can cause hurt feelings and ruin relationships.
We've seen it happen too many times, parents forget to sit down with their children and explain the reasons they have laid out certain choices in their estate plan. Often, parents choose to distribute the assets unequally. This may be due to one sibling having already received a significant "gift" of funds, perhaps to help purchase a first home or to assist in a time of unemployment or financial hardship. Perhaps this child took out a loan from the parents to pay off debts. The parents may choose to give this individual a lesser amount in the trust because they have already received a sizeable amount. In this case, distributing the estate unequally is actually an attempt to make the contributions to the siblings be equal in total.
Sometimes parents allot more based on the varying situations of their children. For example, one child may have 4 children while another child is still single. The parents may choose to grant more funds to their child with the 4 children knowing that their cost of living is higher. Perhaps one of the children has special needs, which requires additional funds to support the care necessary for that individual.
There are a myriad variety of reasons that an estate may be distributed unequally. Whatever the reason, it is crucial that parents discuss the decision with their children. In many cases, the parents do not inform their children and feelings are often hurt and intentions are misunderstood. The child that received the smaller portion may wonder what he did to offend his parents, or why he was less loved than the sibling that received a larger portion. He may not realize that it was because his cost of living is lower, or because he is already well-off financially, or because he received significant assistance earlier in his life.
The most important way to avoid hurt feelings and damaged relationships is to be forthright with your children. Schedule a time to meet together (whether in person or over the phone or via Skype as necessary) and discuss with your children how your assets will be divided and why. By letting them know your wishes and the reason behind your decisions, you will help retain peace in the family and prevent hurt feelings.
About Morris Hall:
At Morris Hall, we have focused our legal practice on estate planning for over 40 years. Along with estate planning, our attorneys help clients and their families with matters of probate, trust administration, wills, powers of attorney, business planning, succession planning, legacy planning, charitable gifting and other important legal aspects. We also have divisions in financial, real estate and accounting to help you incorporate all of your planning together, ensuring that everything works perfectly for your needs and situation. Our Arizona offices are located in Phoenix, Mesa, Scottsdale, Tucson, Prescott, Flagstaff and Arrowhead. Our New Mexico offices are located in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Cruces.