Daniel P. Randolph, Esq.Whether to leave an equal share to each child is one of the toughest questions parents face when drawing up a Last Will and Testament. Equal inheritances help maintain family harmony when you are gone. However, there might be good reasons to leave more inheritance to one child over the other. If so, the reasons should be obvious and something that all your children can support. For example, you might leave the bulk of your money for the care of a child with special needs. That not only fulfills your moral obligations, but also relieves the siblings of the financial burden of future care.

There are various reasons why parents may leave an unequal Last Will and Testament. Many parents may want to support children who need more financial help, while others may want to repay children who have provided important support or caregiving. Some parents already may have helped one child considerably more than other during his or her lifetime. Other parents are reluctant to reward a particularly difficult or problematic child.

If you are not leaving your children equal inheritances, there are steps you can take to help protect your family harmony and your Last Will and Testament against legal challenges. Tell your children what you are doing and why you are doing it. The greatest mistake is when children have neither been informed of a parent’s intentions nor have been invited to participate in the decision-making process. Parents can speak to their children one at a time, or they can call a family meeting to explain the situation. Shared discussions often bring up ideas that you might not have thought about.

If you cannot bring yourself to talk about unequal shares, at least leave a letter with your Last Will and Testament explaining your decision. The tone of the letter should be compassionate, addressing the questions, resentments and disappointments your children may have. No two family members are exactly alike, and parents may well take that into account when drawing up an estate plan. Whatever you decide about inheritance, remember that family harmony is at stake. Consider taking the extra step to preserve the family harmony whenever possible.