Children misbehaving may influence your estate plan

You are ready to write your will. Some of the decisions you have made were more difficult than others. In fact, perhaps even now you are second guessing your choices. It may be easier to divide your assets evenly among your children, but you want to be fair.

If your children get along well, you may have little about which to worry. However, if there are already ill feelings among them, chances are good that your choice to divide your estate disproportionally will stir up latent emotions.

Equal may not be fair

There are several common reasons why you may want to leave less to one child than to his or her siblings:

  • The child has demonstrated poor financial judgement in the past.
  • The child has an addiction (alcohol, drugs, gambling) that you do not want to finance.
  • The child already has more money than his or her siblings do.
  • The child has taken care of you, as you have grown older.

While you may see this uneven distribution of your wealth as fair, your children may interpret it differently. They may believe you are favoring or punishing one child over the others. Often hurt feelings arise when one child has been particularly close to you or when you choose one child to represent your estate.

Accusations lead to litigation

If one of your children has spent time with you, cared for you and looked out for you, you may feel the desire to leave a special gift of gratitude in your estate. In situations like this, other children may interpret this as favoritism and accuse their sibling of pressuring you into giving him or her more of your assets. Even if this is not true, it may be hard to prove or disprove after you are gone.

The child you select to be your executor may also face some harsh scrutiny when dividing the assets. Often, when siblings believe the executor is taking advantage of his or her position for personal gain, the siblings may resort to litigation.

Taking steps to avoid estate plan challenges

You know your children better than anyone does, and the family dynamic may determine how you plan your estate. If your children have a contentious relationship, it may be best to avoid bequests that may exacerbate the animosity. However, your conscience may compel you to divide your estate unevenly, in which case the counsel of an attorney will be most beneficial.

Your attorney can help you determine the best options for asset protection and division, whether it is through a will, a trust or another method. Because your lawyer has experience with the fractious tendencies of siblings, he or she will help you create an estate plan that will discourage contests and ensure your wishes are respected.

FindLaw Network