Your Guide to Money Etiquette
Must I Divide My Estate Evenly Among My Children?
Q: Is it acceptable to leave different amounts of money to my children when I die?
A: It’s a touchy topic, but, yes, you can divide your estate however you wish, according to Lauren Bloom, an ethics consultant in Springfield, Virginia. There are plenty of valid reasons to leave more to some of your offspring than to others. Maybe one has a brood of five to support while another is childless, or one makes six figures while another barely scratches rent together. Additionally, says Bloom, “it’s perfectly ethical to consider your individual relationships with your children when divvying up the goods.” Perhaps one child helped support you for a time, so you feel as if she deserves more.
That said, just because it’s ethical to divide your estate as you please doesn’t mean that it will be easy. Hurt feelings and family feuds may ensue unless you’re up-front with your children—ideally at the time you draw up your will. “Have a conversation or write them a letter explaining why you made this decision,” says Teresa McDowell, a family therapist and the department chair of counseling psychology at Lewis & Clark College, in Portland, Oregon. Reassure them that it’s a financial consideration and that you still love them, no matter what. And remember: Money isn’t the only valuable thing that you can bequeath to your children. “Give meaningful objects, like family heirlooms and mementos, so that every child feels cared for,” says McDowell. That way, your final message will be a loving one.