When the time comes to write a will, the Boston Globe says that many parents opt to divide their wealth equally. The article “An unequal sharing of the wealth,” explains that they respond based on a sense of fairness or a desire to preserve family harmony. However, in the past two decades, those who leave unequal amounts to children have more than doubled.
A study published last month by the National Bureau of Economic Research revealed that the share of parents with wills that give unequal amounts to their children grew significantly between 1995 and 2010—from 16% to 35%. One important element of this increase is the growing number of “complex” families, or blended households with stepchildren and biological children, as well as families where a parent doesn’t have any contact with one or more biological children (e.g., children from a previous relationship).
Among parents who had created a will, 61% of those with stepchildren and biological children planned to divide their assets unequally, compared with 27% of parents with just biological children. Among parents who were divorced at the time they were surveyed, the difference was even greater: 75% compared to 29%. However, researchers noted that living with a stepparent for at least 7 to 10 years eliminated the stepchild “penalty.”
The study concentrated primarily on complex families, but there are other scenarios in which parents might choose to pass on their wealth unequally. Parents may have given more to one child in the past and decide to leave more to their other children. Or, they may want to split assets unevenly to try to put their kids on more equal footing. Parents may have the best of intentions in making these decisions, but they should speak to their children to prevent hurt feelings.
An estate planning attorney can provide valuable guidance.
Reference: The Boston Globe (November 16, 2015) “An unequal sharing of the wealth”