There are many assumptions (based on common practice) about how an estate “should” be divided. For instance, it is very common for parents to leave most or all of their estate to their children, and to divide assets up in roughly equal measure among their kids. This works for many families, but there are plenty of reasons why you might want to deviate from this equal-shares model.
Perhaps you are estranged from a family member. Maybe one of your kids cannot be fully self-sufficient and therefore needs more financial resources. It might even be the case that one child helps you run a family business and it simply makes sense to leave the business assets to him or her instead of splitting them up. Whatever your reasons for doing so, you should be aware that leaving an unequal inheritance can create resentments, fuel sibling disputes and even lead to will contests in some cases. Thankfully, there are certain steps you can take now to avoid or reduce these problems later on.
Communicate your intentions to all parties now so there are no surprises
If one of your heirs is receiving less than what they consider to be their “fair share,” the worst time to learn this information is after you have passed away. Therefore, you might want to discuss things now, while you can explain your reasoning and reassure them that you love them just as much as your other heirs. How you have this conversation is ultimately up to you, but in-person meetings are likely to feel more intimate than a phone or video call.
At the very least, you may want to draft a letter to your heir, outside the will, to explain why you made the decisions that you made.
Ensure that your will is clear, thorough and legally sound to avoid estate litigation
Hurt feelings are not the only risk you face by failing to communicate your intentions. The heir receiving a smaller inheritance may try to contest the will, leading to costly and time-consuming litigation.
Having a direct conversation while you are still living can reduce the likelihood of a will contest but cannot completely prevent it. In order to protect the estate in case of litigation, you need to ensure that your will is clearly written, thorough and legally sound.
This is one of many reasons why you should work with an experienced estate planning attorney when drafting your will. They can help you create estate planning documents that withstand scrutiny and clearly spell out your intentions and instructions.