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Helping You Navigate Complex Legal Issues

Should each child be treated equally during estate planning?

Gregory A. Lang

If you have more than one child, how the siblings are treated in your estate plan can be one of the most emotional parts of planning. And it can also be one of the most contentious parts of estate administration. A common strategy is to treat each child equally when it comes to the distribution of assets.

However, for some families the equal value approach may not work. One consideration should be the amount and types of support each child has received during your lifetime. Did you pay the same for each child’s college education, or did one choose a more expensive school, which required you to use a portion of another child’s college fund? Have you bailed one child out financially while he or she struggled through a difficult period?

There are many scenarios with your children that can result in inequities during your lifetime, so why would these not be considered in terms of the distribution of your assets after you are gone? One problem you may fear is that your children will not see the logic behind the unequal shares that are left to them, leading to costly court battles that could deplete substantial amounts of your estate. So, if you choose to divide your estate in equitable shares, as opposed to equal shares, how do explain your choices to your children?

One choice would be to make your reasons and intentions clear in your estate planning documents. You can even include financial records that demonstrate the accounting behind your decisions. But this may still leave room for argument among siblings who may think that a college education is more of a parental responsibility than a bailout during tough financial times, for example.

A better choice might be communicating with your children before they are confronted with your estate plan after your passing. In the best scenario, any choices regarding your estate plan should be discussed with your children and other heirs who may be affected. If anyone disagrees with your reasoning, you can explain it to them yourself rather than leaving this up to a piece of paper.

Regardless of how you communicate your choices to your heirs, make sure that you have solid estate planning advice to prevent inequities that you did not intend. Because each state’s laws differ, consulting an estate planning attorney in Minnesota will help ensure that your intentions are carried out.

Source: Rapid City Journal, “Kahler: Treat children equally, in life and estate planning,” Rick Kahler, April 13, 2014

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