Parents with more than one child often face a common dilemma about how to distribute their property in an equitable manner to their children. Ideally, most parents would prefer to divide their estates in equal proportions among all their children. When all the children are minors, a will typically provides that the children all receive equal portions of the estate. However, due to the increasing interdependence of parents and adult children, a parent may decide later in life that one child has done so much to care for the elderly parent they want to leave a larger inheritance to that child. Another common reason for leaving an estate in unequal shares is that a parent has given loans to an adult child or paid for a child’s education or first home. The parent may want to reduce that child’s inheritance out of fairness to the other siblings. See debts owed to deceased. This article provides a case study on how to deal with the estate planning dilemma of bequeathing your estate to your children in unequal shares.
Like many parents, Betty recently faced this dilemma when making her estate plan. Betty is an 80 year old widow residing in Cleveland. She expects to leave an estate of 350,000 dollars to her three sons, Charles, Robert, and Harry. Charles teaches English in Brazil and lives very frugally. While Charles is rarely able to visit, Betty never has to worry about him. Robert lives a few blocks from Betty with his fourth wife. Robert has been charged with DUI twice, owes alimony to two ex-wives, and has been unemployed for six years. Betty loaned Robert 60,000 dollars to help with his legal expenses and he has not repaid it. Harry lives in Indianapolis with his wife and two daughters. Harry and his family visit Betty at least once a month. They take her shopping, maintain her home, and cook for her. Harry drives Betty to doctor’s appointments and to visit her sister.While Betty worries about Robert, she is thankful for support from Harry and her granddaughters. When she made her first will twelve years ago, she bequeathed her property in equal shares to all three children. Betty recently met with an estate planning attorney about changing her will. When her attorney asked if she wanted all three to receive the same inheritance, Betty felt conflicted. She thinks Harry should receive something more for how he has taken care of her during her senior years. He could also use help paying college tuition for her grandchildren. Betty would like to help with college funds for Harry's children. Although she doesn’t want to disinherit any of her children, she doubts Robert will ever repay the loan. She knows Charles doesn’t need an inheritance. But Betty has always tried to give each child the same love and affection. She wouldn’t dream of favoring one child and doesn’t want any of her sons to have animosity toward one another.Betty is facing the same estate planning concerns many senior citizens face today. See issues facing seniors. Fortunately, Betty’s estate planning attorney has helped many clients in similar situations revise their estate planning documents. He understood Betty’s primary estate planning goals were to be fair to each of her children and ensure they will not have to spend a lot of time settling her estate.First, he helped Betty establish a living trust and transferred title to her property to the living trust so her estate will pass outside of probate. Also, her lawyer included provisions in her living trust and her new pour-over will to pass her property in way that acknowledges Harry’s extraordinary efforts and takes into account the money Robert has already received. See types of wills.Due to the significant sacrifices Harry has made to take care of Betty, Betty’s new living trust leaves 50 percent of her estate to Harry. The remaining 50 percent will be divided between Robert and Charles, except that Robert’s inheritance will be reduced by 60,000 dollars or the amount of the loan that remains unpaid at her death. Her estate planning documents state that such loan will be forgiven at her death and will not be owed to her estate. Her attorney also advised her regarding the gift tax consequences of making a loan to a child and forgiving the loan as part an estate plan. See gifts and gifting.
Preventing a Will Contest
In this estate planning example,
Betty's will and living trust were drafted to include no-contest clauses so if one of her children contests the will, that child should receive nothing from her estate. For information on using no-contest clauses in your estate planning documents, see contesting a will. To avoid any surprises or hurt feelings, Betty’s attorney urged her to talk with her children about what amounts of money and property they can expect to receive after her death. She also plans to write a letter explaining her estate planning decisions and attach it to her living trust and will. For instructions on how to write this type of letter to your heirs, go to estate plan letter. After her death, her children can read the letter for insight into why they received unequal shares. While Betty struggled with the decision about how to pass her property to her children, she now realizes many parents must address these issues at some point in their lives. It was difficult for her to sit down and review her will, but she is happy her estate plan is now complete and that each of her children will receive an inheritance to help them after she is gone. Because she created a living trust, she also knows her sons will be spared the delays and costs of probate.
Deciding How to Distribute Your Estate
For more tips on how to distribute your estate, refer to these articles:1. For ideas on how to distribute your estate when making a will or trust, see estate plan tips and FAQs. If you are struggling with how to divide your estate and are concerned about conflicts among your heirs, an estate planning attorney can offer solutions you may not have considered.2. If you are considering revising your will to cut one of your children out of their inheritance, read disinheriting an heir. Because of the time and expense involved in executing a will or trust, take some time to consider the act of disinheritance before putting it in writing.3. If you are worried one of your children will take the inheritance of another child, review the steps you can take to protect an adult child's inheritance. When money or property is involved, your adult children may do things you never thought possible. An estate planning lawyer can help ensure your estate is distributed properly according to your wishes.4. If you have already decided to make changes to your estate plan and are ready to take action, go to how to change my will.This article was updated on December 22, 2018.
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