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Should You Ever Treat Your Children Differently in Your Will

We understand the circumstance well. You may have several children some of whom you are closer to than others. You may have adult children who have moved away from home and either don’t stay in contact or contact is limited with them. Even as adults your relationships with your children can change over time. Alternatively, you may have one child that is responsible and mature and another who has serious problems in their lives because they aren’t dependable or responsible. Whatever the makeup of your family is, we are confident that we can help you create a customized Idaho estate plan that will fit your needs and will allow you to provide the specific care that each of your children may need individually.

Our team of premier Idaho estate planning attorneys has assisted clients for over 70 years. In doing so, we often consult with and help parents as they plan to distribute their estate to their children and other loved ones. Our estate planning team is made up of partners Randy Budge and Lane Erickson and attorneys Nate Palmer and Dave Bagley. Each of the attorneys on our team are highly skilled, knowledgeable, and have decades of experience in assisting clients in customizing an estate plan that will fit their needs.

When it comes to your estate planning one of the questions that some clients ask is whether they should treat their children differently in their will. If you are considering this here are three things you should know.

Can You do it

The first thing that you should understand about treating your children differently in your will is that you are free to do it. Your estate planning documents, including your last will and testament are your personal property. Because they are your personal property you are free to create them in any way that you like. Additionally, you are free to change your estate planning anytime you want so long as you have what lawyers call legal capacity, which is a fancy legal word that simply means you know what you are doing, and you intend to do it.

Regardless of whether the circumstances in the lives of your children lead you to believe they should be treated differently in your last will and testament you are free to do it. There is no legal obligation for you to treat your children the same in your estate planning. In fact, there is no legal obligation that you must leave anything to your children at all. The law in Idaho specifically allows you to disinherit children or any other family members or loved ones if you choose to do so. The main point for you to understand is that your estate planning is your own. Because of this, you are in control of how your estate planning is set up, the people that you name in it, and any distributions of your money, property, or assets that are made after your death. Ultimately, you get to decide the who, what, when and how of your own estate planning. The real question you should ask yourself is, “Should I treat my children differently in my estate planning?” The sections below discuss whether it would be a good idea or a bad idea to do this.

Good Reasons to do It

Now that you understand that you can control every aspect of your own personal estate planning, including who will receive your money, property, and assets, the next most important question is what are the good reasons for treating your children differently. There are in fact several good reasons that do exist.

The first good reason for treating your children differently is if any of your children are disabled or have a handicap. As an example, consider for a moment that you have two sons. The first son is healthy and fine, and your second son is disabled with a mental disability that will never change. Because of this mental disability your second son will never be capable of caring for themselves independently. Additionally, your second son may have qualified for and be receiving government benefits because of their disability. In this circumstance it would be a good idea to use your estate planning to make a distribution outrightly to your first son. However, if you were to make a direct distribution to your second son he may lose the benefits he has received from the government. In this instance treating your two sons differently makes perfect sense and is a good idea.

Another example may also help illustrate when it is a good idea to treat your children differently in your last will and testament. Suppose for a moment that you have three children. Your oldest daughter has suffered from alcohol and drug addictions since she was a teenager. She was never able to finish college and has a difficult time holding down a full-time job or really functioning normally. On the other hand, your other two children completed college, have successful careers, and are able to care for themselves. In this circumstance providing an outright distribution of your estate of money, property, or assets to your oldest daughter could be a huge mistake. Because of the addictions that she suffers from if she were to suddenly receive an inheritance it could make her addictions and problems worse.

In both examples there are some children who could receive an outright distribution of property, money, and assets from your estate. However, you have other children who could not receive these things without causing big problems in their lives. As a result, your estate planning could create a trust for those who need help and yet provide an outright distribution to those who do not. In other words, your estate planning would treat your children differently and the reasons for doing this are good and will ultimately help your children in the ways they need it.

Keep in mind, that these are just two examples. Having assisted clients for over 70 years in creating customized estate plans, we have seen all kinds of circumstances that merit treating children differently in a last will and testament or other estate planning document.

Bad Reasons to do It

Although there are good reasons for treating your children differently in your last will and testament, there are also some very bad reasons that we have seen over the years. Sometimes we see parents who have had some sort of altercation with a child either while they are young or when their children are adults. These parents will sometimes use their last will and testament and other estate planning documents as a way of punishing their child simply because they may not agree on certain things.

While a parent is free to do anything they choose in their last will and testament we discourage parents from using their estate planning documents as a tool of punishment. If you have disagreements with your children about religion, politics, relationships, or other things, we recommend that you attempt to reconcile with your children rather than use your estate planning as a means of punishment. Some parents do it despite our counsel. When this happens, we have seen family relationships be destroyed.

Enlist an Idaho Estate Planning and Probate Attorney to Help You

If you have questions about whether you could or should treat your children differently in your estate planning, we can help. Our experienced Estate Planning team of attorneys can help you and your family with your Idaho estate plan or with your probate needs. Whether you are seeking your own customized Estate Plan or need a Probate for a loved one who has passed, we are available to discuss your options and answer your questions at an initial consultation. Call us toll free at 877.232.6101 or 208.232.6101 for a consultation with the Racine Olson team. You can also email us directly at We will answer your questions and will help you solve your Idaho Estate Planning and Probate problems.

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