When planning their estate, most parents start out wanting to treat their children equally. Intuitively, that would seem to be the fairest way to handle things. Sometimes, however, the fairest outcome is one in which your children receive different amounts of money or assets.


When Unequal Inheritances May Be Fair

There are often special circumstances to consider before you divide the family pie into equal parts. For example:

  • You may want to leave more assets to your son who struggles to support his family on a modest teacher’s salary than to your daughter who makes six figures, married a Wall Street tycoon, and has chosen not to have children.
  • You may want to give a larger inheritance to a child who has dedicated himself to volunteer work, the arts, religion, or public service.
  • You may want to compensate a child who has made sacrifices to care for you.
  • You may want to provide for grandchildren, and one child may have more children than the others.
  • Your youngest child may still need support for several more years, whereas your adult children are financially independent.
  • You may have a special needs child who will need care for his entire lifetime.
  • You may have a child who has contributed to the family business while other children have not. Instead of making them all equal owners of the business, you may want to leave the business to the one who has contributed and shown an interest, and then provide for the others with other assets or life insurance.


Distribution of Inheritances May Also Vary

Not only do you need to decide how much your children should receive, but also when they will receive it — and that can also be different for each child. You can distribute inheritances in one lump sum or in installments. Or, you can keep an inheritance in a trust. Consider factors such as the size of the potential inheritance, your children’s ages and family situations, how they have handled their own money, and how much they need your financial gift.

What You Should Know

Many parents do not provide outright inheritances, preferring to keep the assets in a trust for their children. The trustee can make distributions for your children’s benefit based on guidelines you provide, but assets that stay in the trust are protected from irresponsible spending, creditors (bankruptcy, lawsuits, and divorce), and predators (those with undue influence on your child).

Sample Case Study
Rob and Jen have two sons who are stable and responsible with their own money. They will receive their inheritances in a lump sum after their parents both have died. But their daughter is in and out of rehab and has been irresponsible with her own money. Fearing she will misuse her inheritance, they decided to keep her share in a trust so it can provide for her without being completely available to her.

Actions to Consider


  • If you can afford it, consider giving your children some of their inheritance now dad. Not only will you have the opportunity to witness them enjoying your gift, but it will provide insight as to how your children will handle an inheritance.
  • Consider whether your children should inherit everything you own. Perhaps you have additional goals such as providing for your grandchildren’s education, giving gifts to other loved ones, providing for beloved pets, making charitable contributions, or setting up a family foundation or donor-advised fund.


The Key Takeaways


  • Treating children fairly does not always mean equal inheritances.
  • How and when each child receives an inheritance may need to be customized to your children as individuals.
  • Not providing an outright inheritance is usually a good choice, as assets that stay in a trust are protected from irresponsible spending, divorce, predators, and creditors.

It’s essential that you take action to ensure your children receive their inheritances as is best for them as individuals. Our office can ensure your estate plan and your children’s best interests match… and continue to make sense as life unfolds.