"Fair vs. Equal" Inheritance
It’s not surprising that children don’t always like what parents decide about inheritance. It pits the concept of meritocracy against the idea of parents loving children equally.
When siblings learn the contents of their parents’ will, they often replay their childhood scenarios, when they judged whether their sibling received a gift that cost more, got a larger slice of cake or was allowed to stay up later. They expect their parents to give them an equal share of the family inheritance.
When it comes to writing a will, parents are often caught in the middle. For example, a couple has two sons. The older son is a successful doctor who worked his way through medical school. The other, a high school dropout, aimlessly moves from place to place with no plans for his future.
The parents decide to leave the older son less money and put the younger son’s share into an incentive trust. He can’t get his money if he doesn’t change his behavior. However, they’re wondering if it’s fair to, in effect, punish the older brother for being successful while rewarding his younger brother for lack of ambition.
On the other hand, would it be fair to give them both equal shares, without restricting one from squandering his inheritance?
The bottom line is that siblings are less likely to battle it out in court if they know in advance the reasoning behind their parents’ decision.