It is not uncommon for parents to leave each child with a different inheritance. Afterall, fair does not always mean equal. Various factors can lead parents to consider unequal bequests. Some common examples include having a child with disabilities, the presence of grandchildren, a desire to balance out previous financial support to fund higher education for one child while the other did not pursue these opportunities or the wish to bequest a greater gift to a child who helped provide care.
Whatever the reason behind the decision, these unequal bequests can result in family strife. One child may feel stilted and may be concerned the will was not an accurate reflection of the parents’ true wishes. This could lead to litigation, a costly and time-consuming court battle challenging the validity of the will. One child may accuse the other of undue influence, of essentially forcing the parent to change their will prior to death.
Parents can take steps to avoid this scenario. Three ways that may help to reduce the risk of conflict if a will has unequal inheritance for children include:
#1: Call a family meeting.
It is much more likely a dispute will arise if a child feels blindsided by the bequests. A proactive conversation, either with each child separately or as a family, about your decision to provide different gifts can greatly reduce the risk of frustration.
#2: Make use of early gifting.
If the goal is to even out previous gifts to other children throughout life, such as paying for medical school or helping another child purchase a home, gifts may be an option. You can make gifts from your estate during your lifetime.
It is important to proceed with caution when gifting. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and local taxing agencies may require reporting. Look into this first to reduce the risk of triggering a surprise tax bill.
#3: Consider a trust.
A trust provides a greater level of control, and privacy, compared to a will. A will is filed with the court and becomes available to the public. This can trigger questions and challenges. A trust, in contrast, remains private because it does not need to be filed with the court.
You can also appoint an independent trustee to manage the trust. This could be a financial institution or other professional. Using this type of trustee, as opposed to one of your children, can further reduce the risk of conflict.