If you have more than one child, you’ve probably wondered if you should leave each of your children the same amount in your will or trust. For many families, the “Equality Principle” rules and every child receives the same inheritance. However, as our Brooklyn asset protection attorney explains, there are some instances where it might not be the wisest strategy or even the fairest.

When to Apply the Equality Principle When Estate Planning in New York

Factors you might want to consider include:

  • One child earns considerably more than your other children

  • One child has several children of his or her own, while another child does not 

  • One of your children serves as your caregiver, runs errands, or helps you in other ways much more frequently than your other children

Sadly, you may have to ask yourself another, more troubling question: Has one of my children disappointed me so often, or behaved so irresponsibly in the past, that I feel like I must disinherit him or her entirely? In cases where one of your children suffers from drug dependency or severe mental illness, inheriting money may actually do more harm than good.

It’s a tough decision, made all the more difficult by the fact that unequal inheritances can lead to hard feelings and even challenges to your will or trust. If you believe that the best approach is to treat your children differently with regard to inheritances, here are some ways to avoid potential problems.

How to Avoid Potential Problems With Unequal Inheritances two young adults appearing to be in a disagreement in New York

First, talk to your children about your will (or trust) and its contents. This might not be an easy topic to bring up, but explaining your decisions to your children will help them understand why you have made them. Such a conversation can go a long way toward lessening any shock and the potential for disputes that might occur if your children first learn about the contents of your will or trust after you are gone.

In situations where one of your children has consistently “been there for you” when you needed help around the house or running errands, consider rewarding him or her while you are still alive. Similarly, you might want to provide financial assistance to a child who is going through a difficult time, such as the loss of a job or a divorce.

It is important to note that various clauses can be added to wills to reduce the potential for litigation. For example, you could stipulate that any disputes after you pass away must be mediated rather than litigated. A no-contest clause can stipulate that a beneficiary forfeits his or her interests if the will is challenged.

Perhaps most important of all, when you create your will make sure to take steps that show you are of “sound mind.” These can include getting an evaluation from a doctor as well as a psychiatrist shortly before your documents are signed. If you are making changes to your existing will or trust, this precaution is even more important.

If you are struggling with the idea of unequal inheritances for your children, we can assist you with making these difficult decisions and help ensure that your wishes will be carried out.

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Ted Alatsas
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Trusted Brooklyn, New York Family Law Attorney helping NY residents with Elder Law and Asset Protection
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