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Is it wise to leave children unequal inheritances?

Your daughter runs her own company and brings home over $1 million per year. That's not even counting all of the value in her company itself. If she chose to sell, she would be set for life.

Your son, on the other hand, desperately wants to make it as a painter. He loves art for art's sake. While he would like to make money, it's not his main focus. He tends to sell one or two pieces every year. The most he has ever made in a year is about $40,000 -- less than half of what his sister tends to make in a month.

How should you divide your wealth?

As you do your estate planning, putting your money into a trust for the children, you start wondering if you should leave them unequal shares. Your daughter has absolutely no need for your money. She'll earn the value of your entire estate in about two years.

At the same time, it is money that could change your son's life. He'll be able to live off if it for years. He'll never worry about money. He will be able to really focus in on his painting.

You want to provide for your children. That's the point of the estate plan. You know that your son just needs more assistance than your daughter. Is it wise to provide more for him and less for her, perhaps by splitting things 80/20 instead of 50/50?

Sibling disputes

If you do, the risk you run is that the estate plan can then pit your children against one another. You think it's fair, but will they? Will this turn into a long legal battle? Will the children spend months fighting over the estate, perhaps ruining their relationship forever?

After all, from your daughter's perspective, she is being "punished" for her success. Sure, she could earn $40,000 a year if she wanted. She could have worked less and put more time into her hobbies -- which is all she really thinks your son's painting is, after all.

But she didn't. She worked hard, she created her own success, and she should not get cut out of the estate plan because of it. At least, that may be how she sees it.

Talking to your children

Perhaps the best thing you can do is to start your estate planning with your children. Tell them what you think. Ask for their opinions. Listen to what they have to say. The three of you may be able to sit down together and come up with a plan that works for everyone. This can save their relationship. While you do this, make sure you carefully consider all of the legal options you have.

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