Is it a good idea to leave more to my less well-off children?

Wise advice from Huffington Post on how to be fair when making a Will…

This fabulous Huffington Post Reader’s Q&A  covers a topic advisors with our parent company The Will Associates are often asked: does it ever make sense to split your estate unequally between siblings? We too have been getting similar queries from people making a Will on our Wills online templates, so we thought you’d appreciate hearing our thoughts on this topic.

We totally agree with the key sentiment in the Huffington Post’ answer: it’s all about how you communicate your wishes and decisions with your heirs. Unlike the Huff’s advisor though, we never recommend one way or the other. 

What we do counsel is that, before making your decision, you ask yourself three questions.

1. Can my intention to be fair be misinterpreted?

What is the emotional message my decision is signalling?

It really is important to think this through as you cannot come back and explain yourself once you are dead (as far as we are aware anyway). Maybe you are trying to give a child who has accumulated far less wealth, or overcome far more hurdles, an opportunity to flourish that the universe has delivered to their siblings, but do their siblings understand this? Many siblings interpret their inheritance as a symbol of their parents’ love or approval. Many siblings carry childlike rivalry beyond childhood. Old insecurities could be reignited to negative consequences – not your intention at all. Are you certain that your well-intentioned action will not escalate in this way?

2. Have I fully considered how their fortunes may change, regardless of any inheritance?

We live in changing times. By the time you die and your estate is distributed to your heirs, they could all be in different positions – financially and emotionally – than they are now. 

Whilst many undervalued, overworked civil servants are likely to continue to struggle with what many agree is unfair pay and working conditions, it is very likely that they have a job for life – if they so choose. Whereas in the private sector there is no longer such a thing as a job for life and, given recent economic turmoil and political changes it seems things are unlikely to stabilise and the possibility of redundancy is ever present.

And don’t forget, illnesses, marriages and children could all be on the horizon for your tribe – divorces and step-children too. Anything could happen …

3. Have I communicated clearly?

Have I communicated clearly with my heirs re the intentions behind my decisions and am I sure that it will not lead to future antagonism?

We totally endorse the steps the advisor outlines for having such discussions.

Talk to the child (or children) who might be inheriting less first explaining it is a decision – not yet made – based on each siblings economic reality at this point in time. 

If they seem to be accepting of the idea, talk to the child (or children) who will be inheriting more. There’s always the possibility that pride will prevent them from accepting your generosity, but assuming not – or, depending on your particular family dynamics, in spite of this, have a third conversation with all children present.

If anyone is really unhappy, or, upon reading what we are about to say next you feel it is a better solution, we highly recommend talking to an experienced estate planner, such as one our colleagues from The Will Associates. 

Will writing and estate planning experts often find ways around such dilemmas. 

We’ve known people to leave family heirlooms of high emotional value (rather than high financial value) to their wealthier children in a way that shows real love, care and consideration. We call this ‘treasuring’.

We’re also witnessing more and more people ‘gifting’ some of their wealth to their less financially secure children whilst they are still alive. This practice brings joy you can witness now and is a totally legal way to mitigate inheritance tax (IHT) penalties later. Just as in USA, gifting is becoming more and more prevalent in England and Wales, as Garry Bushell reported in his recent piece in My Estate Planning Expert, Millennials & Inheritance. 

So, is it a good idea to leave more to your less well-off children than your more well-off children? 

Only you know. 

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