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Should I Divide My Estate Equally Among My Children? Why Equal Is Not Necessarily Fair

Posted by Judy Nakashima Shoji | Sep 22, 2020 | 0 Comments

Equality is a noble concept and one that many people turn to when deciding how to divide up their estate. There are many circumstances in which equal distribution of assets among beneficiaries is the right choice, but there are some cases where identical inheritances do not make the most sense. In such situations, the difference between what is equal and what is fair is obvious. Let us take a look at an example of each:

Equal Division

Equal division makes the most sense if you have kids and all are at similar places in their lives, have received similar emotional and financial support from you in the past, and are each responsible and capable of managing their individual inheritance. Equal division is obvious and easy.

Fair Division

In a different scenario, say you have three kids, but the youngest is still in high school. You paid for your oldest to attend a four-year college and he is now a successful accountant with his own home. Your middle child has opted to go to trade school instead, his job was eliminated because of the Covid-19 pandemic and he is struggling to find employment. Here, evenly distributing your estate might not end up being truly equitable. If you gave one child more money during their lifetime, equal distribution of your estate could lead to tension – siblings who have not yet received as much financial support as others, and now struggling, may feel slighted.

Planning for Division

While it is important to consider the feelings of your loved ones when dividing your assets, you have the right to do what you wish with your estate. When perceived inequality is a concern, it may help to talk to an attorney about your options.

An experienced estate planning attorney can help you craft a custom plan that will carry out your goal of supporting each beneficiary in the specific way each needs. In many cases, if you make a decision today and want to change it in a few years as your beneficiaries' lives change, we are here to help. Of course, people's needs will change over time, and it is just as important that you update your estate planning to reflect these changes.

One thing you should avoid? Putting off your estate planning. Failing to spell out your wishes ahead of time will cause your estate to be decided by a judge. In such cases, assets are typically divided equally and distributed outright. If this is not the outcome you want, it is crucial you have an estate plan in place. Left to chance, your loved ones could be caught in probate, battling for what they feel is their deserved inheritance.

There are many factors to consider when dividing your assets, but simply making the choice to move forward with an estate plan is a great start. Feel free to give us a call at (206) 926-9848 to set up a meeting. We are here to help you determine the best way to accomplish your goals–whether they be fair or equal–for distributions to leave to your beneficiaries.

About the Author

Judy Nakashima Shoji

Judy prides herself on being approachable, down to earth and willing to answer any questions hr clients may have. She is a Seattle native. She attended the University of Washington, Tokyo University and Seattle University School of Law. She was a legal intern in the Civil Division of the Seattle City Attorney's Office and at Yasuda Fire and Marine Insurance Company located in Shinjuku, Japan. Judy advises clients in all aspects of estate planning, probate and adoptions. She also serves as a Title 11 court appointed investigator in guardianship cases for King County Superior Court. She cannot think of any areas in which she would rather practice. She invests in learning about her client's whole story which creates a friendly environment in which she can provide more effective assistance. Her goal is for her estate planning clients to walk away with a customized, detailed, realistic, and clear estate plan which will accomplish their wishes. Estate planning can be uncomfortable and confusing and her goal is to explain complicated legal options in a way that is easy to understand and clear. Her desire is to provide peace of mind and clarity for her clients while also giving them the information necessary to make well informed decision. Judy has been a member of the Elder Law and Real Property and Trust sections of the Washington State Bar Association and King County Bar Association. She has been a volunteer attorney with the King County Bar Association Neighborhood Clinic and Pro Bono Services for the past 14 years where she was recognized as volunteer of the month in October 2014. Judy is married with three children. Outside of work she enjoys traveling to sunny locations, exercising (HIIT and barbell classes keep her grounded) and spending time with the people (and animals) she loves.

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