Keeping the Peace from Beyond the Grave

It’s every parent’s dream to maintain close relationships with all their children as they age. But sometimes, things don’t turn out as parents plan.

The reasons vary. A conflict with a child’s spouse or a misunderstanding can strain relationships with the child. Sometimes, it’s not a conflict or disagreement, but distance and time that creates a wedge. A child moves a way, has children of his or her own, and a stressful job. Time and distance make it difficult to be involved in parents’ lives, which leads other children to take the lead.

Children who live close by end up as caregivers, driving their parents do doctors’ appointments, and helping them with their financial affairs. And deeply grateful parents feel indebted to those them, often wanting to give them a larger inheritance than their uninvolved children.

But making an unequal distribution to children in a Will can result in tensions between siblings after the parents’ death. Like it or not, children often equate money with love, and leaving a disproportionately larger inheritance to one sibling in a public document like a Will may result in hard feelings that could damage the siblings’ relationship.

Ideally, parents should be open about their plans if they want to make an unequal distribution, explaining that the disparity is not an indication of greater affection for one child. However, many parents are reluctant to do so.

So I often get asked: Is there a way to distribute a disproportionately larger share of the my estate to my involved child, while providing in a Will that all assets will be distributed in equal shares to all children?

Yes!

It is possible to divide your probate estate equally, while making an unequal distribution of your non-probate assets, such as insurance policies or IRAs. Those assets pass by beneficiary designation rather than through your Will.

For example, suppose you want your involved child to get a larger share of your estate. Your Will could specify that all your probate estate will be distributed in equal shares to all your children, but you could designate the involved child as the sole beneficiary of a life insurance policy.

That asset will never be part of your probate estate, and your beneficiary can contact your insurance company after your death to claim the benefits. Just make sure to notify the beneficiary that the insurance policy exists and how to find it.

Providing in your Will that all your probate estate will be divided equally, but naming an involved child as the beneficiary of a non-probate assets can achieve one’s goal of giving an involved child more, while keeping the peace between siblings from beyond the grave.

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