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Equal vs. Unequal: How Should Your Children Inherit?

Every estate planner has conversations with their clients about how children should inherit. While most people assume that children should inherit equally, many clients contemplate treating children differently for various reasons.

Here are some situations where an equal inheritance might not be appropriate, and the pros and cons of treating children differently.

Scenario #1: A Special Needs Child

If a parent has been the primary caregiver for a special needs child, then the estate plan should take this into account to ensure that the child will be properly taken care of after the parent’s death. Depending upon available government aid, this can often mean a special needs trust or supplemental needs trust for the child, with more or less than an equal share of the estate being held by the trust.

In this scenario, the other children can often be more understanding. In practice, many times the siblings are involved in the plan for caring for their grown sibling when the parents are no longer able.

Scenario #2: A Child With Issues

If a child has issues, such as mental illness, substance abuse, divorce or creditors, or if the child is bad with money, it may not be appropriate to leave an outright inheritance, or any inheritance, to that child. The same is true for an estranged child. The use of trusts to provide some (protective) support for such a child may be appropriate. Occasionally, disinheriting a child is the choice some families make.

Scenario #3: Children With Wealth Disparities

Sometimes a wealthy child may tell a parent to treat them differently and give more to other siblings, or a parent may feel that a very wealthy child does not “need” the inheritance. Wealth can change over a lifetime, so this should be well thought out.

What Is Right for You?

While these can all be sensible reasons to treat children differently, these are often difficult choices for parents to make. Many parents feel that they are morally obligated to treat their children equally; otherwise, after death, the children will harbor resentment and/or sibling rivalries will resurface, irreparably damaging those relationships.

Everyone has family issues. While these conversations can be difficult, it’s best to give your estate planner all of the family information so these choices can be considered carefully. Schedule a complimentary estate planning consultation today on our website,, or call 415-235-9162.

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