VanNess & VanNess, P.A.

Creating an estate plan that is fair to adult children

Some Florida parents may feel that, when they die, their assets should be distributed equally regardless of their children's circumstances. Others think that they should set up their estate plan so that the child who has the greatest need gets the bulk of the estate. Either approach could lead to family conflict and resentment from heirs.

Even making a decision about what seems equal or fair may be more complex than it seems. For example, a parent might want to weigh both the gifts given during their lifetime and the impact of those gifts. A parent may have given a child $100,000 to buy a home, but the house's value may have appreciated to $300,000. In addition, parents may need to take tax implications of various assets into account. Two children may receive assets worth $100,000 each yet one is stocks from a brokerage account while the other is a retirement account. The tax treatments can be far different.

Many advisers say that if assets are not distributed equally in an estate plan, it is best to discuss it beforehand with family. Another option is to write a letter that an attorney can give to family if there are questions about how decisions were made.

Other types of family dynamics must be considered during estate planning as well. For example, while the executor of a will does not have to be well-versed in law or finances, it should be someone who is organized and trustworthy enough to administer the estate and to know when to bring in people who have experience with these matters. Family members chosen as trustees or for powers of attorney and to manage health care decisions must also be people who can make sound decisions and manage family conflict.

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