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Inheritances may be fair but not square

You probably have fond (or not-so-fond) memories of your children squabbling over something. Maybe from the time the first sibling arrived, the rivalry between them was apparent, and it was common to see them tussling over the last cookie, a favorite toy or the TV remote. They may have even rivaled for your affection, with one seeking approval by going on to become a great success while another sought your attention with charm.

If you saw these normal developments between your children, chances are, there are underlying emotions that have carried through from childhood. This possibility is something to keep in mind as you make decisions about who will inherit your estate.

A bigger slice of pie

It is understandable to want to be fair as you make your will or trust. To some parents in California, fairness is dividing the assets equally, giving the same amount to each child. However, in your family, equal distribution may seem anything but fair. Some common reasons why parents give their children unequal portions of their estates include:

  • One child is financially successful while another struggles.
  • One child has taken an active role in the family business while the others have not demonstrated interest.
  • You want to reward or encourage a child who does charitable work for little pay.
  • You want to thank one child who has been more attentive or helpful to you than the others.

Of course, allotting uneven portions of your estate may end with your children spending your assets to contest their inheritances. Experts say that the best way to avoid driving your children to probate litigation is to make your wishes clear to them ahead of time.

Holding a family meeting to explain your estate plan and the reasons for the disproportionate inheritances may prevent the siblings from challenging your will in court. Additionally, you may include a no contest clause in your estate plan, which means that anyone who disputes his or her inheritance loses it.

Taking a bold step

Deciding to leave your children unequal inheritances is a difficult choice. When you are ready to make your estate plan, the advice of an experienced legal professional will prove invaluable. You may find that setting up a trust for your heirs is a better option than a simple will, especially if there is a business or other complex assets involved.

An attorney will help you examine the alternatives and choose what will best accomplish your goals. You may also wish to enlist the guidance of your attorney when planning the family meeting to disclose your intentions to your heirs.

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