Should My Children Inherit Equally?

It may be reasonable to leave different amount of money to children with different needs and abilities. Photo by Dorothea Lange.

My clients with more than one child sometimes puzzle over whether they should leave the same amount of money to each child.  This can be a hard decision because, even though parents love all of their children equally, our children have unequal needs and abilities.

Sometimes there is a good reason to leave one child more or less money than the others.  For instance, if you have previously given significant amounts of money to one of your children, it’s quite reasonable to reduce that child’s inheritance by the amount of that gift.  If one of your children has a disability which prevents them from working or has pursued a low-paying career that benefits society, you might reasonably choose to leave that child a larger portion of your estate.

What is not so reasonable is to leave a larger proportion of your estate to a child who is always short on money because they have not learned how to manage their finances.  Although your emotions might urge you to do everything you can to help this child, leaving them a larger proportion of your estate may not, in the long run, be the best choice.  If your child is currently unwise about managing money, leaving that child a larger bequest will not protect them, because it is likely to be spent just as unwisely.  Better to divide your estate equally between your children, to avoid creating resentment between them.  Then even when your spendthrift child has spent their bequest, they still have the benefit of their siblings’ advice and support.  You can also consider leaving your bequest for this child in a trust, with a responsible trustee to control the child’s access to those assets.

If you do decide to leave more money to one child, it’s important to avert feelings of resentment by acknowledging the love and respect you feel for your other children.  Consider leaving them specific sentimental gifts, which need not be of great monetary value.  Or write a separate letter to each of your children, recalling special times you have spent together and telling them how much they mean to you.  The most important thing is to prevent jealousy and help to maintain a good relationship between your children.  Especially when they are suffering from losing you, it will be better if your children can rely on each other for advice and support.

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