People sometimes assume that bequests in an estate plan are going to be equal. If someone has multiple adult children as their closest direct heirs, for example, those children may all expect to get a similar inheritance.
In most cases, this certainly is true, but unequal bequests are becoming more and more common. In the past, it was logical for children to expect to receive the estate value as their siblings. But in 2023, that is much less likely. According to one study, more than 33% of parents reported specifying unequal bequests in their estate plans.
Can this create problems?
Unequal bequests can sometimes create issues and may lead to estate disputes. The difference in the value of individuals’ inheritance could cause personal issues between the heirs. One person may feel slighted if they receive less, or they may think that their parents preferred their siblings.
Unequal bequests could also lead to legal challenges. For example, say that an elderly person has three children, two of whom still live in their hometown. The third child lives overseas. If it is that third child who receives a smaller inheritance, they may suspect something like undue influence on the part of their siblings. They could claim that their parent’s/parents’ will is therefore fraudulent and should not be used in court.
How can disputes be prevented?
One of the best ways for parents to prevent these disputes, when deciding to use unequal bequests, is to have a family meeting in advance. At this meeting, they can inform the children of their decisions and allow them to ask questions. If there are any concerns or issues that would lead to a dispute, they can be dealt with in advance. This type of family meeting could show that the will in question is valid and that undue influence has not occurred, for instance.
As with all estate planning matters, early preparation is important. Those who are drafting an estate plan need to be sure they understand all the tools they can use and the legal options at their disposal if they are concerned about preventing disputes among their heirs and beneficiaries.