When planning the division of your assets, you may believe in a policy of “share and share alike.” This is perhaps the easiest method to avoid conflicts or complaints of favoritism. But does equality necessarily equate with fairness? Especially when you consider such factors as age, talents, skills, interests, needs, and degrees of material success.
An alternate approach to estate equalization is a division of assets that recognizes and supports the uniqueness and differences in the abilities and needs of your children, even at the risk of creating conflict. Through your estate plan, you have a chance to provide a degree of thoughtful and calculated support that your children may not otherwise experience.
Let’s look at the following scenarios:
- Disparity in Age: Assume you have two children, ages 22 and 14. Should you split your estate in half, even though your 22-year-old son has a private school education and college degree, while your 14-year-old son has just started high school?
- Income and Net Worth: Your daughter becomes a partner in an investment banking firm and quickly builds up significant assets, while your son becomes an artist who is dependent on the sale of his artwork to make a living. Should you leave your estate in equal parts to your son and daughter?
- Previous Giving: You have given your 24-year-old daughter $100,000 worth of stock in your business as an inducement for her to work with you. You have not, however, given your 18-year-old daughter a similar gift. Should you still divide the assets in your estate equally?
- Investments Given to Children: You have given one child stock in Company ABC that has risen in value to $300,000, and
another child stock in Company XYZ, which has gone bankrupt. How should you then allocate the balance of your assets?
In all of the above examples, an equal division of property has the potential to create or perpetuate unequal results. Of course, you may choose to divide your assets equally; however, it’s important to be aware of all your options in estate planning.
There are ways for you to achieve more equitable results. First, communicate with your children. You may choose to speak with each child individually or hold a family meeting. (You may serve as proxy for your young children.) Help them to express their hopes, dreams, and expectations, as well as their concerns and frustrations. By listening, you may gain the valuable insight needed to divide your estate without causing undue conflict or resentment. The decisions may be difficult, but in the long run, your estate plan may provide a certain degree of thoughtful support for your children.