Q: I want to favor my son over my other children because he is the one who has been taking care of me. Will it lead to problems if I leave him the house? Should I talk to the other kids and let them know what I have decided?
A: Favoring one child over another can be a stressful decision. It is a commonly held belief that children should be treated equally. Personally, I don’t necessarily subscribe to that belief. If you want to treat the children differently in your estate plan, then you should do it.
There are a lot of reasons that people might want to treat their children unequally. Sometimes, as in your case, one child is the one that you rely upon the most. If there is a child that gets you to the doctor or checks in on you every day or does your shopping, why shouldn’t they receive a little more than the others?
Sometimes the reason is financial. If one child is a neurosurgeon and another child is a school teacher, chances are pretty good that one of them is going to be more financially secure than the other. There is nothing wrong with taking that into consideration.
Admittedly, I’m not a fan of treating the kids differently for strictly vindictive reasons. However, it’s your money and you should leave it to whomever you choose.
Whether or not to have a discussion with the kids is a little more difficult. Because of societal pressure to treat the kids equally, parents sometimes want to give an explanation to the family. On the other hand, your estate plan is personal and I’m not a big fan of discussing it with anyone, including the family. What if you change your mind or what if the family reacts negatively? I’d hate to think that someone didn’t plan like they wanted to just because a child made them feel bad.
If your concern is that the unfavored child or children will challenge the estate plan if you don’t treat everyone equally, have a discussion with the attorney. The attorney can plan for a potential challenge. They can do simple things like documenting the file or include things like in the will like in terrorem clauses which penalize someone who brings an unsuccessful will challenge.
An estate plan is a very personal thing and you shouldn’t let society pressure dictate it. Just because everyone else is treating the kids the same doesn’t mean that you have to or should.
Also, don’t let how you think the kids will react dictate the terms of your estate plan. If you are really worried about it, let the attorney handle the conversation. I’ve had to explain to the children of clients why mom or dad treated them differently. It’s not my favorite part of my job but it is my job. Let the attorney break the news to the kids.
Christopher W. Yugo is an attorney in Crown Point. Chris’ Estate Planning Article appears online every Sunday at www.nwi.com. Address questions to Chris in care of The Times, 601 W. 45th Ave., Munster, IN 46321 or to Chrisyugolaw@gmail.com. Chris’ information is meant to be general in nature. Specific legal, tax, or insurance questions should be referred to your attorney, accountant, or estate-planning specialist.