Dividing your estate equally is a goal for many of my clients. They have spent their lives trying to treat all their children equally. It’s often how they were raised and it’s ingrained in them. But it’s also rather common that families have gone through a variety of cycles in their lives. By the time you are revising your will again, your kids may be out of college and embarking on careers. You may even have grandchildren to consider when it comes to your next revision. And unfortunately, sometimes family dynamics are messy. You may have children that you no longer speak to. So, while dividing your estate equally was the goal in your 20’s when you first got married, there can be other issues to consider this time around.
Dividing Your Estate Equally
Many people think that dividing your estate equally is “fair” – but it’s not always fair. What if you’ve paid extra tuition for one child to obtain an advanced degree? Or perhaps one child went to an Ivy League school and the other chose to work directly after high school. Others have helped a child with a down payment for a house and haven’t been paid back. Even if you don’t think about how you’ve helped the children financially, they have probably been keeping a mental score.
One way that I recently read that you could help equalize the playing field among your children:
- Divide 80% of your assets among your children; and
- Put the remaining 20% into a trust.
In the trust, you can create provisions for when those assets can be used to help a child. And if they aren’t used, then the assets can be distributed to the children down the road.
Leaving a Child Out of the Will Completely
Far from dividing your estate equally, this option is a pretty controversial one. I have not had many clients who have wanted to go this route. If it came across my desk, I’d probably counsel a client to avoid this if possible. Cutting a child out of the will completely can likely lead to that child making life miserable for your other children. When I’ve seen these cases for clients administering the estate, the child who was cut out has nothing to lose. They often hire a lawyer just to make a point. And it becomes an expensive point for all involved. It can also become a tougher situation if you and the child reconcile and you don’t update your will before you die.
One common bit of advice I’ve seen is to leave that child just enough money so that they wouldn’t want to risk losing it by challenging the will. Most wills have a provision that says if somebody contests a will, they forfeit their share under the will. That can be an effective way to head off a fight down the road.
What Should I Do?
In Minnesota, there's no requirement that you equally divide your estate among your family. Surprisingly, a lot of the issues that people encounter can be headed off right now. Much like other issues we all run into, simply discussing your estate plan with your family can defuse the tension. Unfortunately, many families aren’t comfortable having that type of discussion. But doing so can save everyone a lot of drama
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If you’ve been considering an estate plan and would like to know a little more about the process in Minnesota, you can check out the free guide to estate planning and financial planning on this page and if you’re ready to get started, let's set up a Legal Strategy Session and we can discuss the best option for your situation.