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Should You Leave an Equal Inheritance to Your Children

By Lane V. Erickson, Idaho Estate Planning Attorney

If there is one thing I’ve learned after 20 years of experience as an estate planning attorney it’s that each person, and as a result each estate plan is unique. Your estate plan shouldn’t be a cookie cutter form that is also used by your friends, your neighbors, or even some other member of your own family. Rather, your estate plan should reflect your needs, and the things you want to accomplish.

At the Racine law office, we’ve helped each client create a customized estate plan that meets their needs and accomplishes exactly what they want. Our knowledge and experience in being Idaho’s premier estate planning law firm for the last 70 years qualifies us to help you too!

We also understand that while every person should have their own written last will and testament, they also need a durable power of attorney, a living will, and a power of attorney for healthcare to protect them while they are alive. Additionally, depending on the person’s circumstances, and that of their family and loved ones, they may also need one or more trusts to accomplish what they want. We have the experience and the ability to work with each client to determine exactly what their needs are and to help prepare the exact documents that they need for themselves and their family members and loved ones.

The purpose of this article is to discuss whether you should leave an equal inheritance to your children. This is an interesting question that came up recently in a meeting I had with a client who believed they were required to leave an equal inheritance to their children. After providing some explanations to this person about what they can do, we were able to create a customized plan that met their needs.

Who Can You Leave Your Estate To?

To start with, it’s important for you to understand that you can leave your estate to whoever you want . . . with some limitations. If you are married in Idaho you have what is known as a community estate. What this really means is that all the property that you and your spouse own is legally owned by both of you. This is known as community property. If you are married when you pass away, the presumption is that your spouse is entitled to receive your half of all of the community property that exists. In other words, suppose that you and your spouse bought a house together. You cannot leave your half of the house to some other person when you die. This is because the house is community property. As a result, it will go to your surviving spouse, even if your Will says something different.

However, if your spouse passed away before you and you are not married, or if you are single having never been married, or if you are married but you own separate property that your spouse does not have a community property interest in, you have complete freedom and control over who you leave these kinds of property.

If you don’t have a written Will, the laws of intestacy control who receives your property. Typically, if you have no living spouse, or if you were never married, all your estate property goes to your surviving children equally. If you have no children then all your money, property and other assets will go equally to your remaining heirs as described in the statute.

If you do have a written Will and you are single, or dealing with your separate property, you can leave it to whoever you want.

Reasons You Should Leave an Equal Inheritance to Your Children

Are there important reasons why you should leave an equal inheritance to your children? The short answer is yes. The first and probably the main reason why this should be done is to avoid your family fighting over your money, property, and other assets after you pass away.

When you leave an equal share to all your children as an inheritance, your children have no motivation to fight each other. The reason for this is that an equal distribution is exactly what happens when you leave no written Will. When you do have a written Will, the only thing that your children can really fight over is whether your written Will is valid or not. If they fight and it’s determined that the Will is not valid, then your children will still receive an equal share of your property as their inheritance. As a result, there is no motivation for them to fight about whether your Will is valid or not because the distribution each child will receive will be equal either way.

Another reason leaving an equal inheritance to your children is a good idea is because it is in fact inherently fair. If one of your children believes they should have gotten more from your estate, they will have to come forward to the court with some concrete evidence showing that they should receive more. This is very difficult to prove, especially when your own written Will creates an equal inheritance.

Reasons You Should Not Leave an Equal Inheritance to Your Children

Are there good reasons as to why you should NOT leave an equal inheritance to your children? The answer to this is also yes. There are many situations that could exist which would make an equal inheritance in your written Will a bad idea.

Suppose for a moment that you have a child who is disabled. If you were to leave an equal inheritance to this child directly through your Will, this child could lose the benefits they are receiving from federal or state government programs to help them. In this instance, there are other options available even if you do want to leave some of your estate to your disabled child. These would involve the use of trusts and other mechanisms that would not jeopardize the government benefits your child receives.

Another instance where an equal inheritance may not be a good idea is when you have already provided substantial financial help or given substantial gifts to one child while you are alive. In this instance, it would be wise for you to mention the substantial financial or other gifts you have provided to this child while they are alive and indicate that this is part of their inheritance. If you don’t do this, your other children will know about the financial and/or other gifts you’ve given to the child while they were alive. Then if you leave an equal inheritance through your written Will, your other children may resent the child you have given more to. This could destroy the relationships your children have with each other.

When it comes to leaving an inheritance to your children, there is no one right answer. It all really depends on your own unique personal circumstances and the circumstances of your family members. Because of this, we encourage you to work with us in creating a customized estate plan that will help you accomplish what you want. To do this download our free Estate Planning Questionnaire and schedule a free 30-minute consultation where we can answer your questions and help you develop a plan that will accomplish your specific goals.

Enlist an Idaho Estate Planning Attorney to Help You

Our team of Idaho lawyers can help you with any of your estate planning or probate needs. Whether you are seeking to create or review an estate plan for yourself or would like to help a loved one, we are available to discuss your options and answer your questions at an initial free 30-minute consultation. Call us toll free at 877-232-6101 or 208-232-6101 for a free consultation. You can also email us directly at lane@racineolson.com or stop by our office at 201 East Center Street, Pocatello, Idaho 83201. We will answer your questions and help you solve your Idaho Estate Planning problems.

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