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Equal vs. equitable: Why the distinction matters in estate plans

Inheritances are among the most commonly disputed elements of an estate plan. If you are a parent, you can make decisions that minimize the chances of fighting among your children. One way to do this is to be mindful of whether you leave equal or equitable gifts to your kids in a will.

Equal or equitable?

If you have multiple children, you will have to consider whether to leave them each the same amount in your will or to tailor gifts to reflect what you feel is fair.

Equal gifts can be easier to distribute. Everyone gets the same treatment; no one can feel you played favorites. However, treating every child the same may not feel right to a parent.

On the other hand, equitable gifts can be common in families where children have very different financial circumstances or different relationships with a parent. For instance, a parent may want to leave less money (or no money) to a child who is estranged or wealthier than the others.

Problems that may arise

As good as a parent’s intentions might be when it comes to leaving gifts to children, the decisions he or she makes can spark disputes.

A child may be upset to receive the same inheritance as a sibling who was not as close to a parent, or feel like he or she needs more help than the other siblings.

However, if one child receives more money or property, the others might argue that he or she was unduly influencing their parent. They might also be resentful and angry. In these cases, the slighted child or children could contest the will to have the courts redistribute the property.

So, which is better?

Whether it would be best to leave equal or equitable gifts to your children depends on your family and how you communicate. Are your children close, or is there a lot of tension? Have you talked to them about your plans? What are their expectations?

As this article on equitable and equal inheritances notes, determining the right choice for you and your family takes careful consideration. Thankfully, there are legal resources to help you make informed decisions that enable you to protect your wishes and your children appropriately.