There is often a default assumption that local parents wish to provide all of their children with equal shares of an inheritance as part of their New York estate plan. However, no two families are identical, and there are a variety of reasons why some parents feel it necessary to provide different assets to each of their children upon their death. The ability to tailor an inheritance using rules different than the default to suit a family’s specific desires is one of the main reasons why local families seek the assistance of New York estate planning lawyers. As one lawyer put it, “there’s nothing so unequal as the equal treatment of unequals.”
Most families take a variety of factors into account when deciding how to distribute their property. For example, one child may already be more financially successful, another may have a larger family of their own, and yet another may be estranged from the family. In other cases a parent may have already helped one child while alive–such as by providing down payment money on a house–and want that prior help to be reflected in the inheritance.
A Wall Street Journal story this weekend discussed how many families have questions about the best way to go about giving one child a larger share than another. Trusts are usually a more effective estate planning tool than a will. However, if a will is used, it is important that certain steps be taken to ensure that the uneven child distribution is capable of withstanding legal challenge. Part of that process involves being open and honest with family members about the inheritance so that children know about the terms while you are alive. This minimizes the surprise factor and may quell later suspicions. Having these conversations is often difficult, so as an alternative a video or instruction letter can be included with the estate planning documents to explain why a certain decision was made.
To minimize the risk of legal challenge to these documents, it is also helpful to take steps to prove that you are of sound mind and have the proper capacity at the time the plan is signed. In addition, local residents may be well served by considering alternatives to a will to distribute assets to their heirs. For example, property can be split unequally between children, with a set percentage of assets left in a trust to be used for all of the children’s emergency needs. A variety of unique legal tools exist which may help a family tailor their plan to effectuate their specific wishes. Local residents can learn what options may be best in their situation by visiting a professional, like a New York estate planning attorney.
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