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How Do I Divide Up My Assets, Without Dividing Up My Family?

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The decision of making unequal inheritances can be a hard process.

Considerable’s recent article, “More parents are leaving unequal inheritances to their adult kids,” says that a new study from Merrill Lynch Bank of America/Age Wave found that among those planning to leave an inheritance, parents with more than one child are open to leaving different sums to each child, depending on the situation. In addition, the study found that two-thirds of Americans think that under certain circumstances, an uneven split is okay.

However, this can result in ugly sibling fights, hurt feelings and jealousy.

An Ameriprise survey found that among siblings who fought about money as adults, 70% of the issues concerned how their inheritance is divided. A recent survey from BMO Wealth Management reported that about 40% of respondents who had received unequal inheritances felt the distribution was unfair.

If you decide to do this, you need to manage expectations, so you don’t have one sibling blaming another or the parents. While the standard advice is to divide an estate equally between the children, there are several reasons why parents consider another option.

In the Merrill Lynch study, about 25% of those surveyed said a child who has children of her own deserves more money than a child who doesn’t have any children. About 66% said a child who steps in as primary caregiver for an aging parent, deserves to inherit more than other siblings. Roughly 40% of participants with blended families said they don’t think they should treat stepchildren the same as biological or adopted children.

However, parents may also believe that a child with the greater need is more deserving if one has a lucrative career, and the other is a stay-at-home parent. It could be that you have a child who has strong ties to a family business, or you’re planning for the care of a child with special needs.

Further, some parents want the dollar amounts of their bequest to be equal, but not the way it’s distributed. A parent may want to give one child the money outright, but with the other they want to put the money in a trust, for a period of time or for their entire life. This is usually an attempt to protect the child, not to punish them. If a child struggles with addiction or overspending, a trust can help to make certain that the child has access to the money. However, the trustee has control. In addition, parents may be worried that a child’s marriage is headed for divorce or feel uneasy about their son- or daughter-in-law.

Regardless of how you decide to divide your estate, if you think you have a good reasoning for not dividing your estate equally, talk to your children and tell them. This can help alleviate misunderstandings and misperceptions.

Remember, discussing your rationale is critical. Work with an experienced estate planning attorney for ideas and strategies to accomplish your goals.

For more information about estate planning in Orlando, FL (and throughout the rest of Central Florida), visit our estate planning website and be sure to subscribe to our complimentary estate planning e-newsletter while you are there.

Reference: Considerable (December 3, 2019) “More parents are leaving unequal inheritances to their adult kids”

Suggested Key Terms: Estate Planning Lawyer, Inheritance, Trust, Special Needs