Mary is an 84-year-old widow living in Colorado. She has three grown children: her daughter, Sarah, lives nearby and cares for Mary on a daily basis. Sarah performs house maintenance, takes Mary to doctor appointments and shops for her mother every week. Mary’s other two adult children live in Florida and Michigan with their own families so they are unable to help out with their mother regularly. They can only visit once or twice a year.
When it comes time to update her will, Mary must decide how to split her estate among her children. Should she leave more to Sarah because she is basically acting as her caretaker (Sarah has “earned” it)? Or should she still split the estate equally?
This is a scenario that happens all too often; unfortunately there is no right answer. Every family situation is completely unique.
The Decision is Yours
Testators (people making wills) in Colorado are free to leave their assets to whomever they choose (family, friends, charities) as long as they have testamentary capacity (over age 18, of sound mind and not under the influence of other people).
If you are faced with making the decision of splitting your estate unequally, you should consider the ramifications at your death if you choose to favor one child over another:
- Will you leave substantially more to one person?
- If leaving a house/car/boat to one child, will you balance the inheritance in other ways for the other children?
- Do you anticipate that the other siblings will be upset and contest your will?
- Are there spouses involved who might cause a stir?
- Do all of the children have similar financial situations?
- Do you have strong relationships with all of your children?
Tell Them in Advance
You are not required to share the contents of your will with anyone prior to your death. It can be kept completely confidential. However, if you are planning to leave more to one person, it may be best to discuss your thought process behind how you decided to divide you assets in your will prior to your death so your beneficiaries are not surprised. This way you can explain why you have decided to distribute your estate in unequal proportions. If you do not have this conversation before your death, it can leave your children feeling hurt and often a fight with their siblings and over the division of your assets can ensue.
Of course, having this discussion early may lead to pressure from your children to change your will. It may also lead to early infighting. Only you can decide if sharing your will is the right move for your family situation. A middle ground may be to leave a letter with your will explaining how you came your decision.
Estate Planning Lawyers Can Help
The whole reason for creating a will is to protect and provide for your loved ones. Wills that are considered “unfair” by your family may end up leading to fighting and litigation among the ones you leave behind. An experienced estate lawyer can help you decide the best divide your assets and draw up an appropriate will for your unique circumstances.
If you need to create a will in Denver, the Denver estate planning lawyers at The Brown Law Firm LLC can help. Contact us at (303) 339-3750 or send us a message online to arrange a meeting to discuss your options.