When many parents create an estate plan, they simply divide their assets equally among all their children. While there is certainly nothing wrong with this, in some situations it might not be the best, or even the fairest, approach.

Family discussion

(Photo credit: Muffet)

For example, one of your children may earn significantly more money than your other children. One might have several children, another one child, and another no children at all. Perhaps one of your children has served as a caregiver for you or your spouse while the others have not. Or maybe one of your children has disappointed you so often that you would prefer to leave him or her nothing at all.

These are difficult decisions in and of themselves. Worse, when one child is favored over another in a will or other estate planning document, the decisions may be open to legal challenge by the child who believes he or she has been treated unfairly.

Here are a couple ways to help ensure your wishes will be carried out in the event you decide to leave unequal inheritances to your children.

  • Include a no-contest clause. This typically stipulates that if a beneficiary contests the will’s validity or its provisions, his or interest in the will is forfeited. Of course, you have to leave the heir in question enough of an inheritance to motivate him or her not to challenge the will.
  • One strategy that I have used is to have the client write a letter with a simple explanation for what they have done. This is not a legal document, but can be shown to the unhappy heir if necessary. Only if the child or other heir contests the legal document is this letter unsealed.

For additional strategies, or to discuss any aspects of your plan, feel free to contact me. I am here to help you make these and other difficult decisions, and guide you through the entire process.

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