When Equal Isn’t Fair!

“Saying just leave all the rest to me.  I need it more than you, you see.  Then I heard the sound of one child crying…” – The Grateful Dead (“We Can Run”)

If I had to explain to my preschooler and pre-kindergartener one more time that they had an “equal” amount of cereal in their bowls I may have lost my mind.  Seriously.  The younger one will not finish as large a portion as her older sister so in truth, the amounts are slightly unequal, but it’s for their own good!

So I (suffered reading through) Siblings Without Rivalry for the gold nuggets it contains and learned that what they really mean when they ask that is that they’re seeking some assurance that if they want more, they can have more, and no one is receiving preferential treatment as the favored child.

OK, so now instead of insisting maddeningly “you have the same!” I try to ask, “Are you afraid you might want more?”  They nod and tell me yes, and then I (am fortunate to be able to) reassure them, “Don’t worry.  We have more.  If you’re still hungry, you can have some more.”  Amazingly, that ends it.  Try it.  And as John Hodgman would say, “You’re Welcome.”

How on earth does this relate to wills, trusts, and estates?  Simple – I’ll show you.

As parents we are conditioned (by our clever children) to treat them equally.  From the moment we learn we are bringing a sibling into the precious bubble that is the world of a firstborn, we are obsessed with making things equal.   How many of you worried that you weren’t providing your second child with an equal amount of: tummy time, reading time, quality one-on-one time, mommy & me classes, and the list goes on.  (I personally find we mellow some on that obsessiveness by the third child, but it’s still there, definitely.)

The problem is when that obsessive urge to make all things equal, as though that were the true measure of our love for them, backfires and breeds feelings most likely the opposite of those intended.  In the realm of estate planning we need to consider whether leaving an equal amount to each of our children is really the sort of fair we intend. 

What if one child is very financially successful while the other is struggling?  What if one child has a house, mortgage, and family to support while the other lives the leased and unencumbered single life?  What if one child has special needs that will require a different level of long term planning and care?  These are precisely the sorts of questions your estate planning attorney should be raising with you to provide you with legal counseling and advice so you can make the most informed choices about what is best for your family.  But as you can see, equal isn’t always fair.

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About Danielle G. Van Ess

Danielle G. Van Ess is a Massachusetts (born and raised), experienced estate planning and small business attorney who helps her clients protect and preserve what matters most to them. To learn more, please visit: dgvelaw.com or call: 781-740-0848

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