If you are thinking about estate planning and you have more than one child, chances are that you are concerned about dividing your assets equally.
This is a common question that our firm’s estate planning lawyers get from clients. Many parents worry that giving more to one child, even if they have a good reason, will breed resentment and cause fighting among family members after their death.
We advise our clients to be honest and inclusive with their children and other family members during the estate planning process.
If your children are surprised by the amount of their inheritance, the potential for hurt feelings is greater. Once you are gone, they won’t be able to ask you why you gave them less or more than another family member, and they may assume that the amount of their inheritance reflects the amount of your love for them.
However, explaining your decisions can avoid this family strife down the road. It is most helpful to have this conversation while you are alive—so that your children can ask for clarification if needed—but another option is to include a note in your will explaining your last wishes.
A recent article in the New York Times reports on ways to prevent money from tearing your family apart. While the article focuses specifically on wealthy families, the lessons can be applied to anyone, regardless of your wealth.
The article recommends including children in family meetings about wealth and estate planning so that they understand how your family spends and what you value. Doing this can help cut down on feelings of entitlement in your children, as they’ll be able to see why their parents are spending money and the decision-making process behind each choice.
Having these discussions has a side benefit of teaching your children about finances, which can help them manage their inheritance once they receive it. (This applies particularly to younger children, who haven’t had the chance to form bad money management habits yet.)
When estate planning, don’t keep your family in the dark. Of course, conversations like these can be uncomfortable; no one likes considering his or her own mortality. Still, they’re necessary to help make sure that your family doesn’t feud over your estate after your death.
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