Playing favorites in estate planning

When a Florida parent believes that one or more children deserve a larger stake in his or her estate, they may decide to wait until their death before communicating this information. The parent may showcase what may be considered favoritism in his or her last will and testament. There are several reasons for this disparity in inheritances and a few alternatives to fulfill the parent's final wishes while minimizing hurt feelings.

The parent may believe that one child is more worthy of a larger inheritance than another because one child has had a stronger relationship with him or her. Other children may have moved away while one stayed nearby to care for him or her. Another reason for a disparity is because a child may be irresponsible with money or have a drug or alcohol problem.

One alternative is to place a trustee in charge of a trust for the problem child. The trust may contain a "good citizen" clause, which mandates that trust fund distributions stop if the child misbehaves by mismanaging money or committing a criminal act. This type of strategy helps prevent the parent from becoming the perceived bad guy. Another strategy is to leave a nominal inheritance to a disfavored child with a no contest provision. If the child contests the will, the child will not be eligible to receive his or her inheritance. Another strategy is to have a family counselor present during a meeting where the parent explains the reasons for the disparity in inheritances.

A parent who has certain desires regarding the distribution of his or her estate may want to talk with an estate planning attorney. They may be able to provide suggestions about ways to divide the estate and draft trusts and wills that help the person carry out his or her final wishes.

Source: Private Wealth, "Playing Favorites", Caren Chesler, January 07, 2014

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