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Is an equal inheritance a fair inheritance?

When it comes to estate planning, many people in Florida -- perhaps especially those whose parents are recently deceased -- might believe that the law requires their parents to divide any inheritance equally between siblings. However, that is not the case. In many cases it is perfectly legal to leave an estate unequally divided among beneficiaries, although it can sometimes lead to disgruntled family members and contested wills.

That shouldn't discourage parents from distributing their assets in a way they feel is fair, even if it is not equal. There can be many reasons parents may choose not to leave all of their children or beneficiaries an equal share of an estate. For one thing, it may actually be more fair to divide the estate equitably but not equally.

Many times this is because the parents have helped their children financially while they were alive. In the parent's mind, it may only be logical to make up the difference, so to speak, for the other children.

It may also be the case that one child is more financially successful than the others and does not need the inheritance as much. Is that a good reason for a division that isn't strictly equal? Many parents think it is, as long as the well-off sibling is able to maintain his or her position and isn't likely to find him- or herself in financial struggles later.

One situation when it certainly does seem fair to divide assets unequally is when one sibling suffers from a medical condition that makes it difficult, if not impossible, to support himself or herself financially. In such a case, the other heirs might be more than willing to accept an inheritance that is unequal.

Communicating with your children here is the key. By talking about your decisions while you are still alive or even explaining your motives in a written letter to be read after your death, you may be able to ease any resentments raised by an unequal inheritance.

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Deciding how to split inheritance among your children," Tim Grant, Jan. 23, 2013

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