Ever wondered if you’re obligated to leave an equal inheritance to all your children? In this video, we at Sverdlov Law reveal that, contrary to common belief, you have the freedom to decide how your estate is distributed. From estranged relationships to financial disparities among children, we explore scenarios where an unequal distribution may be a thoughtful and legally sound choice.

For those who prefer to read this information, you can find the full script below.

If you’re curious about ensuring your wishes are met or navigating unique family dynamics in estate planning, contact us at 212-709-8112 or ksverdlov@sverdlovlaw.com to learn more or book a consultation here: https://calendly.com/katyasverdlov.

Many people are shocked to learn that you are not obligated to leave your assets to your children when you die.   The only person you may be obligated to leave a portion of your estate to is your spouse (unless you have a pre or postnuptial agreement stating otherwise).  Beyond that, you are free to pick and choose whom your estate goes to and how much to give to each party. 

This could mean disinheriting a child, leaving unequal shares to your kids or choosing some charities that you instead wish to contribute to. We at Sverdlov Law are here to share some examples of situations where you may want to consider an unequal distribution of your assets or different terms for different children.

Under New York law, an adult child has absolutely no legal right to their parent’s estate if the parent dies with a will in place.  If you choose to include your children under your will, you are similarly under no obligation to split the estate evenly among them.Here are some scenarios where you may not want to distribute your estate to one or more of your children or may choose to distribute in unequal amounts:

  1. You and your child are estranged and have had a very difficult relationship. In this case, you can simply choose to disinherit them and distribute your estate amongst friends and other relatives.
  2. One of your children is very well off financially while your other is struggling.  A large inheritance is unnecessary for the first child to live comfortably, while providing a bigger portion of your estate to the second child would drastically improve their quality of life. Here, you can choose an uneven split between these two children.
  3. One of your children is disabled, has a drug/alcohol/gambling problem, or owes a lot of money to various creditors, but your other children are doing fine.  Here, it’s risky to give that first child an outright inheritance so you may want to consider putting their portion into a trust for their benefit which protects it from creditors, from their own misuse of funds and if that child is disabled, preserves their rights to any government benefits. As far as your other children, you could choose different terms and give their shares to them outright.
  4. You have provided one of your children with large amounts of money over their adult life as gifts or loans you don’t intend to collect on.  It may have been for things like helping them purchase a home or sending your grandchildren to private school.  Say overtime you have given one child 1 million dollars, but your other two children haven’t received gifts like this.  You want the division of your estate to be fair to all of them and reflect the lifetime gifts to the first child, so you reduce the amount of their inheritance by the amount of the gift.  

These are just some examples why our clients may have an unequal distribution structure in their will, which again is perfectly legal.

If you have questions about how to provide for family members or have unique wishes regarding the distribution of your estate and want to start the process for executing a will, contact us at Sverdlov Law on 212-709-8112 and we will be happy to assist you.