Siblings do not always receive equal shares of a parent’s estate. Sometimes the inequality is intentional and sometimes it is accidental. Regardless of how it happens, it can and will cause arguments among the children. As you know, sibling rivalry is always possible. However, if that is your plan, thankfully there are some steps parents can take to continue to promote family harmony.
- Manage expectations with open communication. Having direct communication as to what your children are likely to receive may put their minds at ease. That doesn’t mean you need to spread your entire financial life in plain view, as Estate Planning is not a democratic process.
- Level the playing field. One of the most frequently asked questions by clients is whether, by law, they must treat the kids equally. If your children are unhappy with how much they have received, they may try to challenge your will. You can also prevent that, by direct & precise wording in your Estate Planning documents. That applies not just to assets, but also to responsibilities for settling your affairs. When parents appoint that responsibility, they’re making a statement as to who is worthy, capable, and paramount, who they trust.
- Do the distributing yourself. If you want all siblings to inherit equally, put them all down as beneficiaries. Don’t name one or the oldest to inherit, and then be responsible to distribute the assets. Moreover, if you have jewelry, art or other sentimental items to bequeath, leave a specific list. Additionally, provide a method for dividing up whatever personal assets are left.
- If you distribute unequally, explain yourself. There are many reasons parents do this. One child earns significantly more than the other, and therefore needs less. Obviously, it can lead to resentment and is the reason many people avoided talking to their kids. Leave a note as communication with ‘the will’ that says, ‘”I love you all equally, but these are my reasons for the distributions”.
- Use a trust to eliminate uncertainty. If you want to make sure your children use the money wisely, consider putting it in trust with a few ‘strings’ attached. One of methods, recommended is distributing the assets in age increment stages, and possibly restrictions or conditions of use.
Lastly, and some consider it most important, you also should make it clear to all the children, distributions are your decision and not because of the influence of the favored child. As said, by direct and authentic communication, it will help your children understand the reasons behind your decisions. Be Educated! Be Proactive!