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Susan Adcox

Is It Possible to Keep Inheritances Equitable?

By April 5, 2012

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An email from a reader: Two adult children disagree about how an inheritance should be divided. Judy has two children. Joey has none. A number of years ago the parents agreed to pay for private school for Judy's children. Now Joey is contending that the tuition money should be deducted from Judy's inheritance.

In my opinion, since the original agreement to pay the tuition did not specify that the money would be deducted from Judy's share, it would be wrong to do so. Three principles govern inheritances:

  • Parents have the right to bequeath their money and goods as they see fit.
  • Children should not lobby the parents for a larger share.
  • The parents should not use the possibility of an inheritance to bribe or bully their children.

Yesterday Dear Abby had a similar inquiry about whether parents should help their adult children equally or on a need basis. Abby says that any money that is spent to assist a grown child should be deducted from the inheritance. I don't necessarily agree. In my point of view, it is useless to try to keep monetary matters exactly even. In the original case above, the parents almost certainly spent more money on Judy's family. Gifts and treats for the grandchildren add up. Should all that money be totaled up and deducted from the inheritance? What about a family with a whole gaggle of children versus a single-child family? What about the family hit with large medical bills? Keeping up with such spending and trying to achieve equality through adjusting an inheritance is folly, in my opinion. What do you think?

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More Sticky Issues From Readers:


April 6, 2012 at 6:09 am
(1) granny annie says:

Make up you own minds, set up a trust, never discuss it with the beneficiaries because it isn’t their business until they inherit (unless you manage to spend it all first.)

April 6, 2012 at 8:10 pm
(2) Grandma Kc says:

I think the parents should do whatever they want — it is their money.

April 9, 2012 at 6:39 pm
(3) Ric@jibberjabbersbooks says:

It is true that it’s the parents money and they can do with it how they wish.
But, there is potential consequences for sibling animosity and severed relationships if this issue is not handled equitably.
Money is a tricky issue but in my opinion, inheritances should be split as evenly as possible because siblings “needs” are not predictable. Who is healthy and well off now, might not be in 10 years.

But at the end of the day, I’m just hoping there is something left to give to my kids.

April 15, 2012 at 7:14 pm
(4) msetley says:

As my dad used to say, “Spend it all before you die, then they’ll really cry at the funeral.” IMO it’s the grand’s money to distribute as they see fit. And nothing will be equitable to the child who cries ‘unfair.’ Life’s not fair; get over it. If you are given a gift, accept it graciously.

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