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
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?
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.