Uneven Inheritance – To Tell or Not to Tell

“I want to leave more to one child than another”, the client will tell me.  In some cases one child is more financially established than another.   Or maybe one child has special needs, whether diagnosed or not.

When I ask whether this has been disclosed to either child the answer often is no and I can certainly understand why.  It can be an uncomfortable subject and we never know how the other person will take it.   But, the alternative – finding out after the parent has passed – can be far worse.

What may be obvious to the parent may not be so obvious to the child.   And finding out after the parent dies leaves the child with no opportunity to get answers.  It can leave longstanding emotional scars.  There is a tendency to equate love with money.  If my parents leave less to me than to my sibling does it mean they love me less?  There may be very logical reasons why an uneven distribution was chosen.  But then why didn’t they just tell me?

A will leaving 2/3 to Child A and 1/3 to Child B typically does not include an explanation why.  Perhaps worse than that is making Child B the executor.  For some in B’s shoes, it might be tough to handle without at least a bit of resentment.

When I point this out to clients, they are at first surprised.  I explain that not telling can also risk ruining relationships between children.  The last thing parents want is for their children to stop talking to each other.

So, what are their options?  Obviously, one alternative is to sit down and have a conversation.   Some, however, may be uncomfortable with that choice.  Money is still a taboo subject for many families, especially the older generation.

Another suggestion I have often made is to write a letter of explanation and keep it with your will.   Your child will at least have the peace of mind of knowing your motives and that leaving him/her less of an inheritance doesn’t mean you love them less.    And some may find it easier to put on paper what they can’t verbalize.

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