Are Unequal Inheritances Fair?

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It’s not very often that I see an estate plan that treats children unequally. When I do, it is usually because a parent is estranged from one child and leaves him or her nothing. In estate planning, “equal” isn’t necessarily the same as “fair.”

Recently, a client I’ll call Camila, widowed with four adult children, posed a question. Three of her kids had done very well, earning six-figure salaries and building substantial net worth. The fourth child, Fredrick (not his real name), had not fared as well, in part because of mental health issues. He had limited education, had been in and out of jail, had no net worth, and found it difficult to hold a job.

Camila understood that Fredrick needed an inheritance, while his financially successful siblings did not. She wanted her estate to provide some basic support for Fredrick, but was concerned that any money left to him outright would be gone quickly. She wondered about leaving his share in trust in order to provide him a monthly income. She also wanted to be fair to all four children.