Photo: Flickr / ebatty
Every family has its skeletons, but when you leave this earth, the last thing you’ll want to do is create more drama. We spoke to AARP Bulletin columnist and personal finance expert Jane Bryant Quinn to find out why it’s so important to make a will that won’t disrupt family dynamics, or leave your children bickering long after you’re gone.
Here, we’ve highlighted the most difficult scenarios facing parents today and some key factors to consider.
The successful child vs. the unsuccessful child
All parents struggle with whether to leave their successful child less money, especially if the other child wasn’t as wealthy. However, Quinn says “the whole focus should be how the family will be after you die, and whether leaving unequal shares will make everything easier.”
If you choose to leave unequal shares, the wealthy child could end up feeling penalised for doing well, while the struggling sibling could feel slighted for not following in the other child’s footsteps.
What’s more, there’s always the chance one child’s successful business might go under, or that he or she may get a divorce or illness and lose all their savings.
“You never know what will happen,” says Quinn, so “it’s better to focus on the best outcome now.”
Some families see eye-to-eye on everything, while others can’t stand to be in the same room. If your family has any bad blood, leaving an unbalanced will could drive an even deeper wedge between them, says Quinn. Conversely, “a healthy family will have a healthy result” and be able to talk through any jealousies or slights.
The key thing to ask is “Can I help or can I hurt?” You can definitely hurt by “sticking to” members you didn’t care for, or by leaving someone out of your will entirely. For children, a disinheritance can leave a psychic wound they may never recover from, leading to an all-out war.
Step-children and special needs
Not every situation calls for an even split. In fact, in some cases where step-children are involved, the inheritance may have already been determined in the divorce agreement. However, step-children typically come under the equal shares rule if no arrangements were made beforehand.
For children requiring lifetime care, Quinn says it’s usually best to leave that child more. Not only is this what the family members would typically want, it makes it the process of outlining care much easier when they money’s already accounted for.
Real estate issues
The case for a fair will cannot be overstated when it comes to divvying up real estate, says Quinn. She recommends consulting with the children to see how they feel about taking on a beach house or condo, and if they’re not up to it, then selling the property and putting the proceeds toward other funds.
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