Establishing a legacy isn’t always easy, especially when you have children. In an ideal world, each heir would receive a similar inheritance, providing them with the resources needed to forge a better, brighter future. However, family dynamics and personal constraints may not always allow an equal inheritance for every heir. Parents who leave unequal inheritances

Unequal Inheritances

A parent may decide to allocate unequal inheritances for a variety of personal and financial reasons. Sometimes, those reasons don’t seem to make obvious sense; sometimes, the decision may appear unfair or biased. Often, an unequal inheritance can create problems between the children. However, a parent may choose to leave each child an unequal amount of money and/or assets because of the following:   

  • Past support. Some parents offer their children exceptional support before they pass away. If one child has received significant gifts during the parent’s lifetime, the testator may decide to leave a larger inheritance to other heirs.
  • Extraordinary effort. In today’s busy world, children don’t always have the time or energy to take care of their aging parents. When one child goes above and beyond to provide for their parents, the testator may wish to reward them for their efforts.
  • Character and fitness considerations. Some children may not be equipped to handle a sizeable inheritance. Serious mental or physical disabilities, substance abuse, and other character and fitness considerations could preclude an inheritance from being used for its intended purposes.

The uneven distribution of an estate often presents challenges. When unequal inheritances are a matter of practical necessity, they must be considered carefully.

Protecting an Estate From Unexpected Challenges

California law presumes that most adults of sound mind have the legal capacity to write a will, establish a trust, and make other critical estate-related decisions. However, unequal inheritances—especially if they are perceived as unfair—can promote conflict within otherwise cohesive families.

If an heir or another interested party believes they are entitled to a greater share of the estate, they can file a will contest or other estate challenge. While such contests often fail, the estate is responsible for bearing the costs of litigation. Consequently, a particularly vigorous contest could drain an estate of resources, depriving deserving beneficiaries of their inheritances.

You can help shield your estate from uncertainty by talking to an estate planning attorney about:

  • Letters of instruction, which explain estate planning decisions and can circumvent allegations that a parent simply forgot to include a beneficiary in their will.
  • Revocable living trusts, which allow the grantor to condition inheritances and preclude the misuse of funds by immature, irresponsible, or underage heirs.
  • Special needs trusts, or SNTs, which provide parents the means to support a disabled child without risking the heir’s eligibility for government benefits.

Contact a California Estate Planning Attorney

The Law Firm of Kavesh, Minor & Otis, Inc. has spent decades helping Californians of all backgrounds establish their legacies and protect their estates from uncertainty. Please send us a message online, or call us at 1-800-756-5596 to schedule your free, no-obligation consultation.


Philip J. Kavesh
Nationally recognized attorney helping clients with customized estate planning guidance for over 40 years.
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