If a parent dies without a will, the parent’s estate is divided equally between the parent’s children. This may not be what the parent wants. Perhaps some of the children are more attentive while others are uninvolved, do not get along with the parent, or have other issues that don’t justify an inheritance, such as a gambling or substance abuse problem. Before favoring or disfavoring a child, however, the parent should consider how family dynamics among the surviving children will be affected.
Equal Treatment or Extra Share?
Most parents treat their children equally in their wills – even if some children are less deserving. Those children who have been more attentive might be a little resentful but are more likely to understand the parent’s desire to treat the children equally. If the parent wishes to favor a child, the parent can give that child an extra portion while still treating the other children equally from the remainder of the estate. The extra share recognizes the efforts of the helpful child without taking much away from the other children. The other siblings should certainly understand why one sibling gets a larger share.
Avoiding Conflict among the Children
Even if a child deserves nothing – for whatever reason – there are still advantages to leaving something to the child, whether a fixed amount or a smaller share. A child left out of the will may resent the other siblings and will have greater incentive to challenge the will. Such a challenge only has negative consequences for family dynamics among the children. Further, such a challenge is almost certainly a costly endeavor for all involved. To avoid this, the will would leave a bequest to the child, but also contain a “no contest” clause putting the child’s legacy in jeopardy if a will challenge fails. The child now has something at risk.
Explaining the Choices
If a particular child is receiving a greater or lesser share (or no share at all), the will can say why. If family dynamics allow, the parent can sit down with the children and explain the reasons for the parent’s choices while the parent is still around to answer the children’s questions.