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Q: Should I divide my estate equally among my children?

At one point or another during childhood – and even in adulthood – parents with multiple children have likely been accused of favoring one child over the other(s). While this kind of sibling rivalry is natural and generally harmless, how parents distribute an inheritance to their children can actually have serious consequences.

New York and New Jersey estate planning attorneys watch clients struggle with how to handle leaving an inheritance to multiple children. Do they split everything evenly with each child getting the same share on the theory of equal shares means equal love? Do they give more– or less– to one sibling over the other based on any number of reasons?

What to consider when dividing your estate to children

Considerations in deciding what is “fair” can cause a parent to:

  • divide the estate into equal shares;
  • divide the estate into equal shares and then adjust the share by reducing it by sums already given or loaned to certain children;
  • divide the estate into equal shares and then adjust the share by increasing it for children who are struggling financially or who do more to care for their elderly parents.

These are not easy decisions and every family has a different dynamic. It may be a good idea to discuss your plans or seek your adult children’s input. Sometimes, a financially successful child that you’re considering giving a reduced distribution might prefer a sentimental heirloom in lieu of an equal monetary distribution to their siblings. And asking them how they feel may be the only way you would have known that. Your estate planning attorney can help you through this often-emotional decision.

Clients who are uncomfortable discussing their estate planning ahead of time with their adult children may leave a detailed letter explaining the reasons for dividing their estate as they did in the hope of avoiding hurt feelings among their children after they’re gone.

If you need help with an initial estate plan, or would like to modify an existing one, the estate planning attorneys at Merlino & Gonzalez can help you. Contact us to schedule a consultation.

From our offices in Staten Island, New York and East Brunswick, New Jersey, we represent clients in both states in all aspects of estate planning and estate administration.