It's probably safe to say that the majority of people who prepare estate plans in California leave their children equal shares of their estate. But, is this always the best way to do it? Are there times when it is actually fairer to leave unequal shares to the kids, and perhaps even leave nothing to a child?
There are situations in which one can leave a larger share to one child without causing resentment among the other children. One example is when a child has special medical needs or is mentally or physically handicapped. In that scenario, many parents choose to leave a larger share to that child, usually in trust so that a trustee can manage the expenditures.
The more difficult situations are those in which parents leave a child less because that child has been more successful in life. This can seem fair, but the child who got better grades in college and went on to a successful career may feel the person is being penalized for the person's hard work. Other difficult scenarios can arise in blended families with children from multiple marriages.
When parents plan to treat children differently in their estate plan many recommend having conversations with the children to explain what they are doing and why. A lot of family discord can be prevented if the kids understand the reasons for their parents' decision.
It is also a good idea to discuss the decision with the attorney preparing the estate plan. When circumstances justify leaving different shares to different children, an experienced estate planning lawyer can often recommend ways to do it without making some children feel they were treated unfairly.
Source: New York Times, "How a Will Treating Children Differently Can Still Be Fair," Paul Sullivan, July 29, 2016