I cringe when potential clients tell me they plan to leave everything to one child, with the expectation that child will be fair to the other siblings. On the face of it, this seems like a simple way to plan an estate, without the worry of having to designate who gets what and how the estate is to be divided. In practice, it rarely works out very well.
The first problem with this kind of planning is that the individual who receives the estate has no legal obligation to give anything away unless there is a will or trust instructing him or her as a representative of the estate to do so.
The second problem with this kind of planning is that it encourages in-fighting among siblings. Even the most harmonious children will disagree, especially if it’s over money. I often say that if spouses occasionally fight over finances, so will children. I have seen more than one sad case where a will or trust did not clearly divide the estate, resulting in long, protracted arguments over sometimes menial assets.
Finally, it can cause serious family rifts. I have several clients who are no longer on speaking terms with relatives, all because the will seemed unfair. Even the most fair-minded sibling can get worn down over disagreements about what Mom and Dad really wanted and how much was to go to whom.
It is crucial to plan for arguments among your kids. Even if you have the best children in the world, it is unfair to put them in a situation where money or property must be divided among them, but the directions are not clear. The law requires that a person’s estate go somewhere, please do not pass onto one child, what should be decided now.