In my experience, the answer to your question is in the eye of the beholder.
For instance, do you reward mediocrity and bad life choices? Do you punish excellence and good life choices?
This is a different matter if a family member has special needs, whether due to physical or mental challenges.
If you are not planning to treat your children equally, then there must be a reason, yes?
This issue was taken up in a recent New Jersey 101.5 post titled "Being fair in estate planning."
While there is no easy answer to the question of what is fair, treating the children equally can be fair.
But so can unequal treatment.
First, what about providing for children when they are minors or young adults?
Sometimes circumstances just require that you spend more on one child.
For example, aside from the obvious "child with special needs" scenario, perhaps a child may have more expensive school-age activities, was accepted to a more expensive college, or planned a more expensive wedding than the other siblings.
Consequently, provided each child was given equal opportunities, the unequal financial support may not be a problem.
Nonetheless, some parents believe that keeping everything as equal as possible is the best outcome for all concerned.
What about continued parental support when a child becomes an adult?
Here it would seem only prudent to consider why an adult child is having financial problems.
While the parade of potential horribles is lengthy, are their money problems due to poor work habits, a gambling or drug addiction, a divorce, or a disability?
Suffice it to say there are lots of situations with a multitude of factors, and each needs to be reviewed and handled differently based on your own family dynamic.
Most parents feel their children should inherit equally, but this assumes each child has similar needs and circumstances, has received similar support in the past from parents, and has proven to be a responsible and capable adult.
But, if this is not the case, then an unequal inheritance may be fair.
Providing additional financial support to one adult child over another via a parent's estate plan should be within the parent's discretion.
If so, then parents need to let each child know their plans .... in advance.
This will help avoid surprises or hard feeling at the time of the parent's passing.
Hopefully, the other adult children who inherit less will not feel slighted if they understand the rationale.
Problems can still arise, even with your best intentions.
It would be wise to visit with your estate planning attorney about potential issues.
Did you know that if you die without a will, then likely state law will dictate how your assets will pass?
Bottom line: Where the inheritance split is other than an equal split among your children, make sure to your wishes are clearly covered in a professionally drafted and legally valid estate plan prepared with the assistance of an experienced estate attorney.
[This is not a DIY project!]
He or she can help you minimize any bad feelings between siblings and avoid potential fights down the road.
So, how do you find an "experienced" estate planning attorney?
First, ask around. Friends, family and other professional advisors are trustworthy sources.
Second, conduct an "organic" search on "Google" for "estate planning" near you (e.g., "Estate Planning Anytown MoKan").
Third, either way, verify. Check out the education, experience, ratings and client reviews of any attorney before you contact him or her.
In fact, I use both of these services to thoroughly vett attorneys before referring members of our "client" family for legal help in other areas of law or for matters in jurisdictions outside Kansas or Missouri.
Remember: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” When making your financial, tax and estate plans, do not go it alone. Be sure to engage competent professional counsel.
For more information about estate planning in Overland Park, KS (and throughout the rest of Kansas and Missouri), visit our estate planning website and be sure to subscribe to our complimentary estate planning e-newsletter while you are there.
Reference: New Jersey 101.5 (January 4, 2016) "Being fair in estate planning"