Your Will: Give to Kids Equally or Not?

It’s said that there are two things that are certain: death and taxes. With respect to the former, it’s important to plan for what will happen to your money when you pass on. That day might be a long time from now, and you might not have any kids at this time. Regardless, it’s a topic that at some time or another will find its way on the minds of many people. With kids later in life, it might even generate conflicting emotions for people in terms of how to divide up assets.

OK, it may seem cold and unemotional to think of ourselves as economic assets that will eventually be cashed in and allocated to different people. However, the reality is that we won’t live forever. And when we do leave, and emotions are running high with family, it’s possible that amidst the sadness there could be worries over who gets what. I certainly think that’s unfortunate, but it happens.

My question is this: from the perspective of someone drawing up a will, would you ever leave more for one kid versus another?

I know people who have had these issues, as I discussed in a prior post on siblings dividing an inheritance. They were very civilized, and looking back, I’m impressed at how my friend in particular (the one I keep in touch with) ultimately moved on from the whole ordeal.  Now, with question I’m asking here, I’m looking at dividing assets for children from the perspective of a parent.

What got me thinking about this from this different vantage point was an article in the WSJ on how to give less to one kid in a will. Admittedly, it’s a concept that in principle went against the grain for me at first. I believe in fairness between kids, and looking out for their best interests equally. After all, each child is important and should be treasured. Kids that feel less loved than a sibling- even if adult kids – can be hurt deeply, whether or not they admit it. Clearly, it can be a hot button issue.

So, my original thought was that things should be divided equally. Simple as that, right? No need to complicate things or be subjective about it. Fairness is in equality.

Well, thinking about it some more, I think it’s not really that simple.  Kids can grow up and end up having very different situations on a variety of dimensions. Examples include:

  • Profession – one could be in a lucrative field, another in a modest-paying one, despite both working hard
  • Spouse – one could be married to a high earner, another to a low earner
  • Marriage – one could be happily married, and the other could be perpetually single or have been through a tough divorce
  • Ability – one could simply be more talented than another
  • Health – one could be in much better health than another
  • Kids – one of your own kids could have 3 kids of his/her own and the other just 1 kid, for example
  • Luck – one could have been lucky in life, while the other has simply has some unlucky situation happen

These are all examples of how kids, as they grow up into adult kids, can take divergent paths from their siblings. Note that I’m not talking about differences in basic work ethic, financial responsibility, or integrity.

It’s clear that among siblings, some can end up with much better financial lives than others. Think about your own situation compared to any siblings you might have, or what you see in other families.

Considering all these factors, I now think of equality in a more holistic way.

Meaning, I would consider leaving assets for kids in a way that’s not an exactly equal distribution of what I’d ultimately have. It would be influenced to some degree by true need. Again, hopefully this won’t come into play for a long, long time. When it does, I’d try to pay close attention to the kids’ individual situations and plan accordingly.

The key thing is to be honest, and to make sure that kids don’t get lazy in any way and fall back on any potential for an inheritance. Easier said than done, perhaps. We’ll see, many years from now:)

Not everyone would agree with my philosophy. Many would advocate exactly equal division regardless of need, or some other philosophy. You can always check out estate planning items for further information on how to do things exactly the way you want to.

My Questions for You:

What do you think of the idea of dividing up assets based on a holistic view of equality, rather than based on a clear division?

Or, do you simply not care about equality and feel that money would be left based on some other decision process?

Or, do you feel very differently than I do, and you don’t believe in leaving money for anybody?

Comments

  1. says

    The only way I think I would consider this would be if there were health issues or other issues that would necessitate one child having a greater need for money than the other. But other than that I think equality is important to avoid divisions in the family, which are almost inevitable under unequal distribution circumstances.

    • Squirrelers says

      Money Beagle – I do agree that this is an issue that could cause discord if not handled properly with open communication, as well as understanding.

      • SLCCOM says

        You have to be very, very careful here, or you can cost a disabled child their income. Be sure to consult an attorney who is an EXPERT in this area of law.

  2. says

    In our family one person has more health issues than others, plus she doesn’t have very good health insurance. Among the siblings we have agreed that when Dad dies we will give our share to her. It just makes sense. Of course we don’t know what is in Dad’s will.

  3. says

    There was an interesting article on Forbes this week on the very same topic. They suggested dividing every thing equally to help prevent litigation. Apparently, if there is an unequal division one child could claim that you were not in your right mind when you divided things that way or that you made a mistake. Equal is better in my opinion.

    • Squirrelers says

      FSYA – HA! That type of suit just seems frivolous, since it’s a person’s prerogative to decide what to do with his/her own money. One would hope that families wouldn’t resort to that type action, if the parent is well meaning!

  4. says

    Hmm, I’m a long way away from multiplying, and even further (hopefully!) from the end of my existence, but I can definitely see where you might give more to one than the other.

    Even if you beat the basics of finance into your child’s head, there’s still no way to know that they’re going to make good decisions with anything you leave them. I’m wondering how a parent would go about this, though…do you leave less to one? Maybe set up a trust to operate as an annuity?

    I can think of several friends who will probably be in a position to inherit a pretty large sum of money in the future. Of them, I can’t see very many actually having much left a year after getting it. Money is disposable to them.

    Then who says you can’t go one more generation down the line? If Susie has 3 kids, and Jim has 2, then maybe you might want to give 60% to Susie for her 3 kids’ school, and 40% to Jim for his three kids’ school. But then that brings in the whole timing element.

    Hmm, no wonder why estate planning is a big business…I wouldn’t even want to have to bother with it.

    • Squirrelers says

      JT – yeah, it’s big busniess alright. In some cases, as you allude to, there is a significant amount wealth being transferred. And, in the case of many beneficiaries, a lack of experience and responsibility. It’s no small consideration, I would imagine, for the benefactors. That said, all other things being equal, I’d go for just that – an equal division. It’s the examples I noted in my post that would be get me to think of doing differently, and would have to be done with great care and with open communication. Hopefully I’m many, many years from dealing with that!

  5. says

    If both your kids are responsible, but one is doing well while the other is not due to chance, then yeah makes sense to divide it according to what you think is fit.

    But what if one is irresponsible and always broke while the other is sensible? Equal division would make more sense here.

    We can’t be always impartial. Equal division solves that problem.

    • Squirrelers says

      MoneyCone – I agree with you. If one is irresponsible and the other is responsible, I’d lean toward an equal division. Irresponsibility is no excuse, and is different than the other issues I noted.

    • Squirrelers says

      krantcents – I know someone with young children, who received a modest inheritance from his parents. Part of it was intended to go to his kids (benefactor’s grandchildren) for their eduction. I thought that was great, as he (friend) didn’t get financial help when he went through college. Nice to see the next generation get an advantage that the prior one didn’t!

    • says

      My boyfriend’s grandparents paid for his college tuition. I think it worked out nicely, because even taking out loans for my tuition, I didn’t learn the value of money paying tuition – it is just such a big number when you haven’t had time to work much yet and understand how much work earning that much money will take.

      So I don’t think his work ethic was much hampered by the free education, and they got to go to the best colleges they could get into, and graduate debt free – although still with the will to work, since there was no “grandparent” money to pay for any expenses after graduation!

      • Squirrelers says

        Kellen – that makes sense. Once the free education was completed, there was no bailout. So, even though there would be no student loans, he would still have to take care of everything else upon graduation. That should be enough to keep motivated!

      • cc says

        bless grandparents’ hearts. my g’s left enough money for myself and my two siblings to do four years at a college. my sister used hers up then took out loans for grad school; my brother’s got used on a private high school; and mine went towards four years at a private liberal arts college. i have a degree in art now, it’s very satisfying but i don’t make much, barely enough for groceries let alone student loans. i am so grateful to my grandparents for letting me pursue this field unladen with student debt.

        • Squirrelers says

          cc – that’s so great that your grandparents provided you and your siblings with resources to go to college. It’s great to not have to deal with student debt.

  6. says

    Our money is set right now to be divided exactly evenly. However, if the circumstances of my children change, we may reallocate accordingly. This would be done very much in the open though and I would never have a will reading be a surprise.

    Ideally, kids would all be raised with empathy and understanding so that if assets are ever divided based on need, there wouldn’t be any greedy resentment. Money causes so many issues in life…

    • Squirrelers says

      Everyday Tips – I think your thoughts actually match mine on this, in terms of being open, raising kids with empathy and understanding, and planning for no greedy resentment if anyobody has tough circumstances (causing unequal division). Yes, money can cause a ton of issues in life, including families torn.

  7. says

    I would lean toward equal and have done that for my 6 kids. Of course, they are all still young. However, if there were some sort of medical issue that were to develop, then that might require a little more support. But given like opportunities in life, it is not up to me to bail out bad decisions. Life has consequences.

  8. says

    I don’t have any kids at this point, but I think equality is always a safe bet. You made some good points for reasons to not give it out equally, but it would require a sibling that is really understanding to not wonder why the parent chose to give more to the other sibling.

    • Squirrelers says

      20′s Finances – I think you’re exactly right. It would take a lot of understanding by the sibling. One of the prior commenters (Maggie) noted a plan among siblings to help someone in need by giving inheritance shares to that individual. So, there are some cases where siblings can be understanding. Won’t always be the case, of course.

  9. Holly says

    Equal is best, IMO. Sibling rivalry runs deep in many families, often to the grave. I do not think that it would be prudent to gift one child more simply because they are in a different circumstance than the other(s). It’s as if you would be punishing those children who turned into successful adults.

    I also don’t agree w/propping up one’s adult children’s incomes thus slighting the more successful (or less successful, but less greedy) siblings.

    If an adult child has a tragic turn, then of course you would offer to help if you had the means, but hopefully that money would be gifted at the time when it’s needed most…not after you’ve passed on.

    • Squirrelers says

      Holly – that’s a really good point about gifting while living. That’s another approach. I certainly hope none of this comes to pass.

  10. says

    We only have one kid so it’s not a problem for us. :)
    I have two brothers though and I wouldn’t mind it if my parents give more money to the one that need help. They probably aren’t going to leave much behind though. ;)

    • Squirrelers says

      Marie – another person mentioned giving while alive as well. It’s certainly another approach. In terms of life has consequences, if one child has major health problems and another is super healthy, I guess I don’t think the health problems are simply life’s consequences that he/she shouldn’t get help with. In that case, I would hope that the healthy sibling would have no problem with the unhealthy one being helped.

  11. says

    I do not have kids yet either! We say we are on the five year plan–in five years we will reassess:).

    Not sure how I feel about this; I think it should not be a clear cut rule. On the other hand, would I want to cause a family rift for years to come?

    • Squirrelers says

      Amanda – I generally (just my view) like the idea of equality. However, I agree with you that it shouldn’t be a clear cut rule, for the reasons I noted in my post. The family rift concern is a very real one for most families, and perhaps it’s clear communication as well as collective compassion among all individuals involved that could avert that.

  12. says

    We have provided for equal shares in our will. Although money does not equate to love, our opinion of what we think is fair may not be shared by our children. Should one son be more successful than the other, to take more or less than his share would be his decision, not ours.

    • Squirrelers says

      101 C – thanks for sharing. It really is a personal choice, and you have a good point – sometimes kids can actually be generous with each other based on how they perceive their own lives to be going.

  13. says

    I have two things to consider: health and financial responsibility. Obviously, the one who is in a not-so-good state of health needs financial assistance. Ont he other hand, would you like to leave your hard-earned money to somebody you know will not be responsible enough to handle it?

    • Squirrelers says

      College Investor – I agree about the health aspect, absolutely. In terms of financial responsibility, I’m assuming in my post that each sibling is, in fact, responsible. I wouldn’t want to give extra money to someone who I believe would lose it quickly due to irresponsiblity. However, if a kid made a bad move in the past, but had genuinely learned lessons and needed help, I’d view it much more positively in terms of giving a bit extra to that kid. Really, though, the idea of somewhat disproporionate giving is more due to other factors than responsibility.

  14. says

    There’s a lot to be said for having only one kid: it certainly resolves this conundrum, leaving you only with the question of who gets the money if the child predeceases you (heaven forfend!).

    I’ve often thought the only circumstances in which it would be fair to leave more to one child than to others would be if the privileged offspring had some serious health problem (physical or mental) that would disable him or her and make it impossible to earn a decent living or to set aside enough out of earnings to provide a secure retirement.

    Otherwise, I’ve never thought it was right to tie strings on money left to adult children or to short one kid because you think she or he is irresponsible with money. What on earth do we care what the kid does with the money after we’re gone? We won’t be here to see it; if the kid diddles it all away, hurrah! It’s not our problem anymore. If you feel you just must exert control over other people’s decisions and lifestyle, however, it’s easy enough to put the money in trust and assign a trustee to manage it.

    • Squirrelers says

      Funny about Money – I do agree with you that giving extra to an irresponsible kid isn’t a great idea. I do think that if one has been exceptionally successful and the other has dealt with misfortune not tied to any irresponsibility, it’s a different ball game. As for what happens when I’m gone, well – maybe I’ll see it differently later, but at this point I envision myself really caring about seeing that the money is used responsibly or just simply saved for grandkids. Of course, I’m talking about many years from now – and I’m not in a position to think about mass sums of mony at this point anyway :)

  15. says

    I will definitely leave equal shares to my two kids, with one caveat. I told them both that if they don’t manage their money properly, they get nothing. I got this idea from The Richest Man in Babylon. Will I follow through? I’m not sure at this point and I hope I’m never forced to make that decision.

    • Squirrelers says

      Bret – it sure is a topic that brings up all kinds of opinions and reasoning. I can understand not wanting hard-earned money to be handled irresponsibly by a beneficiary.

  16. says

    I plan on having one child, so hopefully this won’t be a problem. While things won’t be equal at all times (what family is?), it’s important for things to be generally equal over time. For example, a relative paid for private undergrad for her daughter while her son went to public school. Now he is in grad school, and she has agreed to pay for his first year of tuition because his undergrad was so much cheaper. It’s not *exactly* equal down by the dollar, but her gesture meant that there’s a sentiment of – your sister got more monetary help during college, but I recognize that, and we are going to do our best to help you out as well.

    It would be horrible for siblings to feel slighted or unequal in the eyes of their parents because of a will. An inheritance can really rip apart a family, and once you are gone you want your kids to have good relationship with each other. If you have to leave unequal amounts, think long and hard and for goodness sake,*talk* about it with the kids while you are still alive!

    • Squirrelers says

      Well Heeled – I’m a long way from this time, I mean it’s way off hopefully! Anyway, I do agree that when kids are older, it’s important to discuss such matters. Even if the split ends up even among kids, it’s best to be open and talk. Totally agree with you that people want their kids to have a good relationship with each other, it would be heartbreaking for many people if that didn’t end up being the case!

  17. Liz says

    I think possibly health issues might be a reason to differentiate. However, you never know what the future will hold. One child could be happily married and wealthy one day and then have a devastating illness filing for divorce the next.

    • Squirrelers says

      Liz – you’re right. Things can change in a hurry for people. A kid who seems to be so very fortunate compared to his sibling, for example, may see a reversal of fortunes and could end up being the needier one. Good point, life isn’t static as of the time of a parent passing away.

  18. Jamie says

    I love this topic, because it is something that I have thought about a lot in regards to my parents’ will.

    I am independent, in a steady relationship, no children, with a good, reliable job, and I have always been the financially responsible one. My sister is unemployed, has three children and a couple failed marriages, and lives at home on the farm with mom and dad with two of her children (the third is there on the weekends). In addition, I live several hours away, while she works regularly on their farm and has helped out with my dad’s law practice.

    I think that we are a great example of why one sibling should get more of the inheritance– She should certainly get the farm– It is her home, and she has put a lot of work into it. She should also get money, since she does not have an income (Ideally, this would be set up so that she’d receive a certain amount each year for several years, so that she doesn’t have to budget). I have discussed my parents’ will with them and expressed that whatever they decide is fine with me, but I’m sure they know that even if they give to us equally, I’ll be sending money her way.

    I also think that the number of children involved makes a difference– If instead of just the two of us there were six, it might make more sense to to distribute to the kids equally, since the average percentage that each child is getting is considerably smaller.

    • Squirrelers says

      Jamie – thank you for sharing! This is an example of why some kids might simply need more help than others. I think it’s great that you’re very understanding toward your sibling, and understand that she would have significant challenges in her situation. Good for you.

  19. Stephanie says

    I suppose I am in this situation now, a relative of mine (Aunt) is passing away due to cancer and has already let her will be known, that everything goes to me (nothing to my two sisters). It’s not a slight on my sisters, it’s simply due to the fact that I’ve been around and have been helping, supporting and in some cases taking care of this relative while my sisters long ago moved away, and could not provide the same support. As a result, there are no hard feelings, my sisters couldn’t be happier for my inheritance. One could argue that since we are all her nieces, we should get an equal share, but due to circumstances we are not.

    Perhaps the same could happen with parents and children, if one child is around to take care of them in their old age, or ill health, and others are not for whatever reason, shouldn’t that child get the lion’s share of the inheritance?

    • Squirrelers says

      Stephanie – thanks for sharing your own story. You bring up another angle to this dilemma that’s a good discussion point – should the amount of dedicated help one sibling provides a parent (or aunt) be taken into consideration in that way? It seems like there’s open communication in your family, and that’s really good.

  20. Kristin says

    I was going to say something along the lines of what Stephanie said. Sometimes the passing of a parent will have followed a lot of care and expense from children in order to support that parent during the last few years of their life. In that case, I think it would be equitable to give the child/children who provided the bulk of the care or funds with a larger share of the inheritance. However, that should be known and agreed upon by all parties before such a decision is made, otherwise it will cause ill will. One also shouldn’t be taking an elderly parent in solely for the chance to have a larger inheritance.

    • Squirrelers says

      Kristin – good follow up points. Agreed on open communication as you noted, it’s important to maintain positive feelings. Also, while someone might want to leave a little more for a certain person, that person shouldn’t be helping out for financial gain. That makes somebody just like paid help, or like a golddigger of sorts! So, I agree with you.

      • says

        My family actually had an agreement like this – one of my aunts is a doctor who lives close to my grandparents, and so she took on the lion’s share of the work especially when they were ill. She was paid for her time and work through the money that they had while they were alive… I think that’s almost a better way to do things. What about settling accounts while the older folks are alive (especially with the $10K gift income allocation per person per year)?

        • Squirrelers says

          Well Heeled – it’s good when a family has some kind of logical/supportable system to handle such situations. If there’s buy-in from everyone and open communication too, that’s a really good thing in terms of avoiding hurt feelings and strained relationships. As for the $10k, I’m sure that’s used quite a bit in different situations.

  21. Azuma says

    I think need because of age is also a dimension that could be considered.

    As an example, I am the youngest in my family. When I was in high school, and my older siblings were already out of college, my mom reminded me periodically that her will had me getting slightly more money than my siblings because the extra was to cover college and a good car (something she had provided to them in the past). Now that we’re all out of school, it’s probably evenly divided.

    • Squirrelers says

      Azuma – that’s true, age might come into play as well. If one adult kid already had college paid for, but a younger kid is just enrolling, that kid might need more help than the kid who already got so much help. Good point.

  22. cherie says

    I say this from my own perspective, as an only child [so no underlying issues with siblings] and as an attorney who has seen [and read, and heard of] oh so many problems in this regard.

    If I had a child with a medical challenge, special needs etc, I would likely leave a disproportionate amount to that child, quite possibly in a trust form. This would be well-discussed with any siblings [and in fact a sibling would likely be among the trustees]

    However all other inequities in life are generally the result of personal choice. Not all, certainly, but many. And there’s nothing wrong with addressing financial pitfalls while you’re alive [if your child is really having an unusual and completely random financial crisis, why not help NOW?].

    If one child chooses to have 8 kids, that’s their CHOICE. Why give extra to them because the other sibling only had 2? [giving directly to the grandchildren is another choice - but still should be equal among those 10 kids].

    If one chooses to work in the public sector, or the arts, and never will make what his wall street brother makes, well, that’s his choice – and he gets other benefits from it obviously – why should you try to ‘even things out’ with your will?

    The truth is that even without frivolous litigation [which is usually unsuccessful but costs money in attorney's fees] being unequal for any but the most basic reasons [a child who has significant disabilities for example] will lead to divisions in the family. Let the kids equal things out if they wish [as at least one comment states] and then they feel more like a family instead of less, with each one wondering just why mom and dad left their brother more than they got.

  23. Harriet says

    I just had a conversation with some relatives and their perspective was a very different one than I’ve read so far. They said that an inheritance should be divided among the children according to how the children treated the parents. In other words, the child who called regularly, who moved in to help with disability, who was otherwise loving (from the parent’s perspective) is the one who should get more than a child who did not do those things. What do you all think about that?

  24. ferrell says

    This happened to a friend of ours. Two adult children. The sister married a man who did very well and they have no financial concerns. The brother worked in a service profession. While his salary is adequate, his future was not secure. When their mom died she left everything to the son. It was a surprise. She was deeply hurt and no longer speaks to him.

    If you are considering dividing your estate unequally, talk to the family while you are alive and explain your motives. It could save lots of heartache after you are gone.

    • ferrell says

      I re-read my comment :(
      The SISTER was deeply hurt and no longer speaks. I don’t think the mom is speaking to either of them.

  25. Tanya says

    No no no. I disagree completely. Dividing it up equally is the only fair way to go. Giving one child more than another because of different life choices is not fair and it’s not up to the parent to punish the more financially successful child by choosing to give more to the other. Talk about an easy way to cause rifts in the family.

  26. Riya says

    What makes children think they are entitled to any of their parents wealth?? I for one, do not believe in handouts just like Warren Buffet. As parents we do not owe our children anything after we have finished raising them just like they don’t owe it to us to take care of us when we’re old!

  27. sb says

    My mom recently changed her will from 6 equal shares (written before she had grandchildren) and is no planning on leaving equal shares to all of her children (6) and the same equal shares to all grandchildren (10) that equals to 16 equal shares. This seems fair to most of the siblings, and is very fair to all the grandchildren to be treated as equals. One sibling who has only 1 child feels cheated. All of the shares will be given to grandchildren after the 23rd bday. out of the 10 grandchildren 6 are over the age of 23. Grandmom was inolved in all the grandkids lives since birth and wants them to have a good portion of her estate, directly from her. Not one sibling gets more or less, but the families are not equal in size.(one has 1 child, 3 have 2 children, 1 has three children and one has no children) Family feud has resulted because one sibling with one child only feels cheated out of “fair share”. Mom is still alive at 85 and this feud continues. Most of family feels this is fair, all 16 being treated the same. any thoughts?

  28. nonplused says

    I think you are an idiot. My brother and sister have already asked my parents to write me out of the will, for the simple reason that I have a good job and they don’t. Actually, my brother sold his company at 43 and plans to live off his money until my parents die and then live off the inheritance. My sister’s husband quit his job to live off my parents the same way. I made the mistake of saying “hey, they might live 20 more years and anyway grow up!” Now they all hate me.

    In any case, it is wrong to treat children differently, and that can only be measured in dollars. I treat my older daughter to soccer, and it costs money. My younger daughter prefers band, and guess what? Money. But to give more money to one child than the other (other than rounding differences), guess what? You loose a child every time. Your most successful children, the ones that might help you when you need it, will hate you. And those poor kids who “needed the money”, well guess what, they got nothing, they can’t help. If you might need help in the future, better give the money to the kids who don’t need it same as the ones who do. At least you might get it back if things take a turn for the worse.

  29. Dee says

    Equal is different than fair. Here’s an example….if I have a sandwich, and want to share it with a man who ate this morning and a man who didn’t eat for five days, is it ‘fair’ to split the sandwich and give them both half? I think most would say of course not, that’s ridiculous. Because the starving man needs most of the sandwich, maybe give the man who just ate a couple bites. If he is a decent human being he will understand and want the starving man to have most of the sandwich. My mom has a friend with three kids…two are totally healthy, married and have affluent lives. The third child is schizophrenic and has been cared for by years by the parents. She cannot work at any productive employment, she gets an ssi check of only a little over 800 per month, poverty level ESP in California, (or anywhere for that matter)….when the parents die, she will need more than what she’s getting now as her siblings are selfish and detached, never helped her parents with her care and seem to only are about their own bubble of life. She will probably end up back in some type of board and care that will take most of her check, leaving a paltry amount to live off the rest if each month. She was in a board and care but her parents were disheartened at her life there and brought her home. Living off ssi checks, she will probably be lacking at times for food, prescription meds or dental care and certainly will not have any money to speak of saved up for her senior years. Its scary to think what will happen after they die. Should they divide their trust down the middle, so that the wealthy kids who are married and already have retirement fu ds set up the same amount as this ill kid who has next to nothing? If they were to divide it down the middle, the disabled kid will not end up having enough to live on and will very possibly end up homeless or worse. I think its obvious and common sense they should leave the disabled child with sufficient funds to cover her housing and medical costs….if they give ‘equal’ shares to a,, three, she will not end up with enough to live off. Hopefully most parents end up with adult children who have morals and a dash of compassion to understand why a disabled sibling would require more money than a healthy affluent child. Actually, to take it a step further and really boil it down….if the parents in this case were to divide it all equally, they would be giving more to the healthy kids who don’t need it….bc they would end up with what to them is a little extra money and the disabled child would end up with not enough to live off

    • Squirrelers says

      Good way to phrase it, equal might be different from fair. If one kid is wealthy, and the other kid has much less, fair might mean giving the kid who has less a break – and more than the other. Not in all cases, but surely in some.

  30. Addressing issues before it's too late says

    This was a good article. I wonder if you’ve got something similar for addressing issues with parents before they get to that critical point. I’ve got a mother who is still with us that has decided to leave the bulk of her estate to a son which isn’t doing very well (2 other children, we’re doing fine). I’d agree with that in principle, but he has a gambling problem and is the definition of irresponsible (and has been taking money from her under a don’t ask / don’t tell policy for years now). Talking with her about it results in a total shutdown as she is in denial of this. If communication isn’t taking place, what options are there for managing / minimizing the fallout?

    • Squirrelers says

      Thanks, glad you found it to be useful. Your situation, as you describe it, makes it seem like your mother is worried about one child who isn’t doing as well. Ultimately, it’s a personal decision on the benefactor’s part, but my own view is that it’s okay to give a kid who is doing worse some extra help – even a lot more help. However, if it’s due to the kid’s irresponsibility, and there isn’t demonstrated behavior indicating a commitment to turning things around and behaving responsibly, then in some cases it could simply be enabling the irresponsible behavior. And, perhaps indirectly punishing the siblings who have tried hard to be very responsible adults.

      Communication is key of course, but maybe you can approach it differently – in a way not tried before? Perhaps bring in a 3rd party to open dialogue like a different family member, or have you and the other responsible sibling have a heart-to-heart with her jointly. It sounds like Mother is well-intentioned here, and eventually, it probably won’t be the kids’ call anyway. Whatever the case, I wish you the best.

  31. gb says

    Do you know if there are posted statistics available for inheritance distribution? In other words, some general stats on who most people leave their estate to (i.e. 1st decendents vs grandchildren, etc.). My 88 yr old dad said he was told by his “bank contact” that most grandparents leave all or most of their estate to their grandchildren and has therefore split his estate (Mom passed a couple years ago) up into quarters, with 1/4 going to my 67 yr old brother, 1/4 to each of my brother’s two daughters and 1/4 to myself. The issue for me is that I have four children of my own who Dad chose not to include in his will at all. The end result is my brother’s side of the family has been alotted 3/4 of the estate vs 1/4 on my side. Dad openly admitted that he did this partly because of a concern that 100% of my brother’s estate (when he passes) will automatically go to his new common-law partner, leaving nothing for his two daughters. My brother has told my dad and I that this is not the case but my dad is still not convinced. The other reason he gave is, due to differing life choices on my part and my kids, my children didn’t play as “active a role” in my parents’ lives as my brother’s girls did growing up. This is something I don’t dispute but even my brother thinks the current distribution mix is overly generous to his daughters. We’re having a hard time convincing our Dad on this so I was hoping some general distribution stats might help, even though we all agree that ultimately the allocation of assets should be Dad’s “will”.

  32. justbecause says

    Our situation is a little different, with 6 children (step children included) we have divided our Will into 10 parts. We have one child who is ours so will be getting half (5 parts) and the other 5 children will get the other half divided between them (1 part each) because they all have other parents whom they will inherit from whereas the one child does not. We have discussed this with our children (all now adults) and they are more than happy with this outcome and feel that it is fair for each of them.

  33. Hoerschel says

    I’m still conflicted. Four kids. Oldest. 32. is severely and persistently mentally ill due in part (if not wholly) to drug abuse. Gets 800 / mo SSI, lives with us, unable to live on her own due to anti-social behavior and inability to pass background check for an apartment. Next is 26 year old daughter who is shacking up with a creep who has a child from a prior relationship out of wedlock. Our relationship with her is strained as she is in full rebellion to our lifestyle and values. Next is 23 year old son who is in recovery from drug abuse, shoplifting conviction, living paycheck to paycheck, occasionally homeless. Youngest is 21, finishing last year of college, has developed acute mental health symptoms due to anxiety (no doubt in part due to family dysfunctions). Of the four kids, the youngest is the most vulnerable, yet compliant and responsible. We currently have a special needs trust set up for the oldest. Wife and I have $1.5 million in life insurance combined. Would like to devote at least half to favorite charities. Balance to the kids, but cash payouts seem irresponsible to the 26 year old rebel and 21 year old foundering drug addict son. Suggestions on how to structure / handle this is a will or family trust?

    • Squirrelers says

      Sounds like you have some big decisions at hand. It seems totally understandable to have questions about next steps. I would suggest speaking to a professional on this, given the dynamics involved. Best of luck!

  34. ladyadmn says

    My comment is more catharsis than asking for actual advice. I cannot discuss this with my parents without appearing greedy.

    Ours is a blended family. My mother and father married when I was 12, and my father legally adopted me. I am my mother’s only child, and there were a son and a daughter from a previous marriage. None of us received educational or financial support from them in the ensuing years.

    My parents did their estate planning twenty years ago, dividing all equally. The rationale at the time was sound—there was deep emotional resentment of Mother and me on the part of the other two children. The equal distribution was my parents’ way of trying to show the other two they were equally loved.

    My parents are 95 and 90 now, and the other son and daughter died during the past two years, each leaving two children who will split their parents’ portion of the estate (in excess of $1,000,000). One of these granddaughters has a drug problem and attempted to steal from my parents; another has only visited them once in the past 20 year and for the sole purpose of asking to borrow money for a business venture; and a third grandson has refused to even see or talk to his grandfather for the past 30 years. The final granddaughter has been regularly involved in calling, visiting, etc.

    I am 70, divorced with a son with Down syndrome, living on a small annuity and Social Security and live 300 miles from my parents. They insisted on living independently in an area without access to help and/or care until this last year, even though both are in poor health. I was finally able to convince them to move to an assisted living facility several months ago, but they insisted on remaining in their distant rural area. My monthly visits have now become about twice a month because they have not been able mentally or physically to handle closing the house, packing and storing their treasured possessions and getting settled in their new environment.

    For the past fifteen years I have been my parents’ only source of help—everything from lengthy trips for medical care for my mother, driving them long distances to attend funerals, and chain sawing fallen trees and upkeep of their extensive lakefront property. My three daughters and their husbands have all helped to some extent with those chores. Admittedly, my frequent visits and help have been because I love them and have been the only support available to them. Nevertheless, I have sacrificed considerable time (away from my son and my own grandchildren) as well as money of my own in travel expenses and extra expense for my son’s care while I am gone.

    I am deeply resentful that one half of what they jointly earned and accumulated during their marriage is still destined to go to the three unloving and uncaring grandchildren of my father’s first marriage. I have no problem whatsoever with the fourth granddaughter’s share. My children, of course, receive nothing unless I predecease my parents.

    My point is that equal and fair are NOT synonymous.

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