Clients often ask what is “fair” as they consider what to pass to their children or other beneficiaries. Typically, their thought is that an equal distribution is a fair distribution. But that may not be the case. Equal is easy. Fair can be a challenge. Our perspective often affects what we view as fair.
Parent’s Perspective of Fair
Most parents love their children equally. Usually there is not one thing a parent would do for one child that the parent wouldn’t also do for another. When a child has a need, the parent instinctively wants to help. It does not matter which child has the need.
So, from the parent’s perspective, they are willing and available to help their children equally. However, as is often the case, one child may have “needs” far greater than another. Perhaps, the child just needs more attention. Or maybe they need more money to help get them through tough times. Regardless of the need, this needier child tends to receive more time, attention and resources of the parents than the child who does not express similar needs. Over time, the difference between what was provided to one child compared to the other adds up. Yet from the parent’s perspective, because they love their children equally and are willing to provide for the children equally, the parent believes that they have acted equally toward their children. And they consider it equal because they believe they would have done the same for any of their children.
It’s obvious the parents didn’t provide equally in reality, though the willingness of their hearts would tell a different story of fairness. Many factors can play into a parent’s greater generosity towards a child. Perhaps, the child’s pattern of bad decisions has led them into greater debt, poorer living conditions, or their own family challenges. Parents step in to help in times of need. And if another child doesn’t have a need or doesn’t express a need, the parent focuses on the one with the need.
Child’s Perspective of Fair
It is difficult to objectively and honestly compare ourselves to others. Our opinions are tainted by our own emotions and desires. This can be particularly true when dealing with family. When one child of a family tends to be far more “needy” than another, over time, the less demanding child may tend to feel left out, unloved, or unable to ask for help because the parents seem to be overwhelmed helping the other. While the child who hasn’t sought or received the extra time, attention, and resources may feel left out, the other sibling may not have the slightest inkling that their parents have not been treating the children equally. The “needy” child may have a difficult time looking beyond anything other than having their own needs met. And they would not concern themselves with the extraordinary time, attention, and resources that were provided to them. Because our own opinions and emotions skew our view of reality, the needy child may not be able to see the difference in service provided by the parents and may simply conclude that the parents must be providing equal service and care to their siblings. From that child’s perspective, their parent’s care and treatment among the children is not only equal, but also fair. Of course, the children who have not demanded as much of the parents may not share that view.
Who’s Perspective Matters: The Parent’s or the Child’s?
Both perspectives matter, but the parent’s perspective takes priority. It is their Will and Trust that is being crafted. And it is the result of their hard work, sacrifice, and saving that is being passed down to their kids. Nevertheless, it is common for parents to worry how their children will respond to what they leave behind. Parents wonder what message they are sending to their children based on what they leave. On the one hand, parents often believe that leaving an equal share to the children will represent that they love the children equally. However, as we recognized above, a parent’s equal love for their children does not automatically result in equal time, attention, or resources being poured out to the children. So shouldn’t the Will and Trust also reflect a careful consideration of fairness?
A parent can love their children equally and never run out of the love they feel. However, parent’s time, attention, and resources are limited. What is given to one, is not available to another. Recognizing this fact during the estate planning process often leads parents to consider more deeply how they want to pass their assets and how we craft their Will and Trust.
Equal is Easy. Fair May Not Be.
It is easy for parents to say they want to leave assets equally to their children. That is especially true when parents consider the distribution as a reflection of their love. When we distribute equally, we don’t have to wonder and wrestle with what is fair. However, fair may not be equal. One child’s needs may be larger than another. Perhaps, this justifies a greater distribution to that child. On the other hand, if far more time, attention, and resources have been provided to one child compared to another, perhaps, a fair distribution is one that favors the child who has not demanded and taken as much of the parent’s time, attention, and resources over the years. Obviously, this is not easy. But we can help.
How to Decide What is Fair
Deciding what is “fair” can be a challenge. We wrestle with that idea daily. Each person’s situation and each family’s situation is unique. Many considerations and concerns are at play. We guide our clients through the process in developing their Will and Trust. We help them determine what is best and fair in their situation. What one family decided may not be right for another family. What one person decided may not be right for someone else. We help families work through these questions. Family harmony and an expression of love from parents to their children is what we help parents accomplish through their Will and Trust. Contact us if you would like to explore this for you and your family.