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Uneven inheritances may throw a family off balance

Raising a family in New York can be exciting and unpredictable. With the wide range of cultures and experiences, your children may constantly surprise you by the choices they make and directions they take in life. At holidays and family gatherings, you may look around the table at a very eclectic group of people.

While this may make for interesting conversations, it may complicate your decisions when you begin to undertake your estate planning. Some of your children may be struggling to raise their own families or working for meager pay in noble professions. Others may be doing quite well and wanting for nothing. Perhaps you are leaning toward an unequal distribution of your assets.

Getting it out in the open

There are endless reasons why parents may choose to divide their estate disproportionately. If one child is more helpful and attentive to you as you grow older, and you may want to gift that child generously. If one child has a history of wasteful or dangerous spending, you may decide not to throw your lifelong savings in that direction.

However, most professionals who handle probate or trustee duties will attest that an uneven distribution of assets will likely lead to resentment, disputes and even litigation. Some ways you may attempt to prevent these negative consequences include:

  • Adding a no-contest clause to your document, which effectively disinherits anyone who disputes his or her allotted portion
  • Holding a family meeting during which you outline your estate plan and explain your reasons for dividing it the way you have chosen
  • Being clear and specific about the scope of your estate plan so everyone understands your intentions
  • Enlisting the help of an attorney to facilitate the meeting and provide legal advice or explanation
  • Recording your family meeting so no one can question your state of mind or intentions at the reading of the will

You certainly have the right to leave your belongings to whomever you choose. However, an uneven distribution of your wealth is almost certain to breed some resentment, especially if you are secretive about it.

Rely on experienced help

Your concept of fairness may be very different from the concept your children have. While you may conclude that your more successful child requires less of your estate, that successful child may interpret his or her smaller portion on a more personal level. Whether you realize it or not, you may have been dealing with these emotional reactions since they were children.

After decades of experience with various family dynamics, your attorney has likely heard of many of the best-laid estate plans ending in costly disputes among siblings. Intercepting those disputes before they grow into litigation is the ideal solution. By including your attorney in your family meeting to discuss your estate plan with your children, you may be among those who avoid the negative consequences of unevenly distributed assets.

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