What’s the fairest way to leave money to your kids in your will?
September 10, 2016 2:14 PM   Subscribe

If someone has two kids, one of which has a child and one doesn’t, what’s the best way to split things up?

For example: John has no children. Jane has one child, my grandchild. Which way is the most fair: 33.3% amongst the three of them or 50% to John and 50% to be split between Jane and my grandchild, so 25% to them (grandchild’s in a trust till 21.) So should John get less of an inheritance because Jane decided to have a child?

My father left everything to two of his children and left one out of the will, which caused problems. I’d really like to do the fairest thing possible. If you have an opinion or you’ve experienced something like this, one way or the other, I’d love to hear about it.
posted by mulcahy to Human Relations (75 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
50-50 to the kids. What they choose to do with it is their choice.

My grandparents chose this route to avoid the "but child 1 has 2 kids, child 2 has 2 biological kids and 2 stepkids, who gets what?"

There have been no arguments.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 2:18 PM on September 10, 2016 [63 favorites]


Grandkids are the next generation: what they get will be determined by their parents, not by you. Agree that a child should not be penalized because s/he didn't have a child.
posted by DMelanogaster at 2:20 PM on September 10, 2016 [55 favorites]

My folks (retired) have talked with my brother and me about their estate to make their wishes known as well as in writing. It'll be split 50/50 between him and me (I'm divorced with one child, he's married with three children).

*If* (and estate planning opens up a whole host of what-if scenarios) my brother, his wife and I were deceased but all the grandkids were alive, it would be split equally between the four of them.

Would be odd (in my opinion) to punish someone financially for not having kids or reward someone for having them.
posted by Twicketface at 2:21 PM on September 10, 2016 [5 favorites]

As an infertile woman, I'm going with 50/50.
posted by kimberussell at 2:25 PM on September 10, 2016 [25 favorites]

Why not get together with both of your kids and work out a mutually satisfactory arrangement? Regardless of what seems fair, you don't want to leave either of them with lingering resentment. If they contribute to the decision, you'll reduce the risk of that.
posted by adamrice at 2:29 PM on September 10, 2016 [7 favorites]

50-50 is the very best way to divide things so that your decision doesn't become a poison between siblings after you're gone.
posted by quince at 2:33 PM on September 10, 2016 [19 favorites]

Best answer: Definitely 50-50 for the kids - I'm currently the only one of my three siblings that's childless, and sometimes that feels like a bit of a disappointment for my folks. My parents giving my siblings more and/or putting a grandchild "tied" with me would feel like a final, "man, we really wish you would've had kids."

In my parents' generation, they were both significantly younger than their siblings, and their nieces and nephews were the same age as them. This caused some weirdness, but having a clearer will that split evenly between the children generation vs trying to figure out how much to give to a seven-year-old versus a forty-year-old was more elegant.

I do think that if you feel strange about not leaving anything to your granddaughter, starting up some sort of college fund could be nice - that's something you can do while you're alive that should cause minimum drama. Ditto with if there's anything special you'd like to leave your grandchildren - my grandmother bequeathed each of her granddaughters a special brooch, and it's nice - having a heirloom that is specifically chosen for you is lovely.
posted by superlibby at 2:34 PM on September 10, 2016 [12 favorites]

You might consider putting money away separately for your grandchild beforehand, perhaps something like a 529 fund that will grow well tax free and be there for a variety of educational needs. This can doubly help out, as when the child is applying to colleges, and might need financial aide, institutions look at the parents but not at what the grandparents have in hand.

Then leave the rest 50/50 to your children.
posted by nickggully at 2:35 PM on September 10, 2016 [40 favorites]

50-50 to the kids. And there's phrasing you want to use to make sure that the grandchild isn't accidentally disinherited if the parent predeceases you; make sure your lawyer includes it.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 2:36 PM on September 10, 2016 [4 favorites]

Also: If left directly to the grandchildren, they might not be of an age to make appropriate decisions with it, so it might be better to put it in a trust.
posted by nickggully at 2:36 PM on September 10, 2016

Gonna go with 50-50 unless there are extenuating circumstances like a grandchild with special needs. You never know if child free John is going to have a late in life child or have expensive medical problems.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 2:37 PM on September 10, 2016 [11 favorites]

My grandparents split their will equally between each child, but also left a specific small dollar amount to each grandchild (in trust till we were each 21). The money was very useful to my cousins and I as we were all young adults at the time. As far as I know it felt very fair to all involved - I have heard no whiff of jealousy.
posted by john_snow at 2:38 PM on September 10, 2016 [6 favorites]

50/50 to the kids.

My mother also set up small investment funds of sorts for each of her grandchildren so each child gets a certain amount when they turn 18 to spend as they see fit though she'd prefer they pay for a car/travel/education. It's the same amount in each account the grandchild can cash it out when they come of age or keep the investment going. If you wanted to leave money to grandkids keep it separate to what the children get and again make it even if possible to save animosity.
posted by wwax at 2:41 PM on September 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

50/50. Why should one be punished for not having children?
posted by Jubey at 2:44 PM on September 10, 2016 [7 favorites]

"Fair" is not a particularly well-defined term. It depends on the values and needs of the people involved, and the extent to which relationships within the family are civil.

A child being left out of the will entirely, or even effectively, is unpleasant for, if nothing else, emotional reasons. I have one brother who has three children (while I am childless). I would be hurt if I got less than, say, 10% of the inheritance, not because I desperately need the money, so much as that it would be painful to have my value to the family explicitly quantified so low.

But beyond that, unless the family is fiercely competitive, I'd dare to hope most splits would be well-received by those who are involved. 50-50 among the kids is good. 60-40 or even 70-30 with the larger slice for the child with offspring is also good, because all parties can rationalize it as valuing them. Likewise some three-way split with a trust for the grandchild and the parents valued either equally or nearly so works (FWIW, since my father's terminal illness and death I've been aware of my family's estate planning, and both my parents' wills had language akin to this last one).

As a lighthearted additional comment about inheritance among grandchildren, here's a complicated Talmudic argument for, in certain circumstances, splitting an inheritance among three grandchildren with one receiving five twelfths and each of the other two receiving seven twenty-fourths.
posted by jackbishop at 2:44 PM on September 10, 2016 [5 favorites]

Fair is an even split to the two children, regardless of their family situations. Equitable takes into account the specific circumstances of the children's lives and what impact the inheritance will have--such as my grandmother who left everything to five of her children, leaving the sixth with nothing because that child can't have assets or cash over $XX in order to preserve her disability benefits. The sibling who cares for the disabled sibling got the house, to sell and use for that purpose.
posted by crush-onastick at 2:47 PM on September 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Seconding talking with them about it too - I'm unlikely to have kids and my sister is likely to do so. I'd rather my parents leave more to her as a result (though I'm also well off and she is not, which factors into my feelings on the matter). Sometimes siblings would rather take care of the neediest one, sometimes they'll fight like cats and dogs over the smallest parts of the estate.

On the side of a fifty/fifty split, depending on your children's age, it's possible the childless one will have kids after you pass.
posted by Candleman at 2:48 PM on September 10, 2016 [4 favorites]

Agreed that splitting evenly among your kids is the best strategy - that's what my partner and I have done in our will, and what our parents have arranged in theirs.

In our lives, where there has been some wiggle room lies in the assistance that our parents have offered to kids while they were/are still alive. I come from a family of five kids and there's quite a bit of variation in our financial and personal situations, and that has meant that my parents have - at times - offered extra financial assistance to those kids who needed it more. But when doing that they took a lot of care in discussing the matter with all of us, and it's not been at all problematic because we all get along with one another, and my parents took the time to talk about the importance of doing whatever they could to support the family as a whole. That worked out really well, but I think that kind of thing can't be done through estate planning because it's critical that everyone have a chance to talk about the role of "family assets" and what those assets should be used to achieve.
posted by langtonsant at 2:52 PM on September 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Is this something you can discuss with your kids? In my family, it's been handled 50/50 once and "40/40 to children, plus 10/10 directly to grandchildren" once. I don't think there was bad feeling about this since what the children got directly was equal, but then the family was pretty much on the same page about the whole thing in terms of wanting to give some money to the grandkids to help a little with college.
posted by Frowner at 2:56 PM on September 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

I might do 50-50, but set up a 529 or other trust for the grandkid now and start putting money into it. If you don't have money to put into it, why not 40-40 and have 20% go to the trust/529 when you die?
posted by Toddles at 3:00 PM on September 10, 2016 [5 favorites]

50/50 is fine.

If you do want to do something specifically for the grandchild, agree that starting a 529 for them now would be a great way to do it. You can fund it generously if you like. then 50/50 the estate that you plan to leave.

It is always a good idea to discuss your estate with your heirs ahead of time to avoid surprises. The whole point of estate planning is to help your family. That includes helping them stay close and loving and avoid the resentments that so commonly crop up when inheritance issues are unplanned/misunderstood. After seeing what happened in my family, I'm going to give explicit instructions on everything, even individual pieces of jewelry.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:01 PM on September 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

I don't have or plan to have kids. My siblings do. If I were asked how I wanted my parents' money to be distributed, I would want them to pay all or part of the cost of college for my nieces and nephews, and then distribute the rest evenly among my siblings and me. (That's assuming it's enough money for something like that to be feasible. I think if we're talking $20k, just split it among the siblings. If we're talking about a million, set some aside for the grandkids separately, and split the rest evenly.)
posted by decathecting at 3:02 PM on September 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My Grandma gave $1,000 to each grandchild and $750 (I think?) to each great-grandchild. The rest was split equally between her children. It was a nice thought for the grandchildren; I was 21, and felt very... honored?... to have been in her will. Plus, the $1,000 was much needed. There were no arguments, so it seems like it worked out nicely.
posted by samthemander at 3:02 PM on September 10, 2016 [13 favorites]

Agree with 50/50 to the kids, and a small sum in trust for the grandkids when they turn either eighteen or 21.
posted by Tamanna at 3:05 PM on September 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

My Grandma gave $1,000 to each grandchild and $750 (I think?) to each great-grandchild. The rest was split equally between her children. It was a nice thought for the grandchildren

I had a grandparent who did something similar to this. Getting remembered in a will with an amount of money that might be big for a kid but isn't likely life-changing is a thoughtful thing to do. Also agreeing that some other way to approach college stuff like a 529 is similarly thoughtful.
posted by jessamyn at 3:12 PM on September 10, 2016 [7 favorites]

Fifty/fifty. Anything else says you value your childless kid less.
posted by MsMolly at 3:17 PM on September 10, 2016 [9 favorites]

My grandmother split her estate into two parts. One part was divided equally between her two children (my mother and my childless uncle). The other part was divided equally among my mom's three children (me and my sisters). Each portion went into a separate trust paid out when we reached 25.

In our case there was not really a question of greater or lesser need. The three of us granddaughters were in or near college/grad school at the time. I am not aware of any ill will on anyone's part.
posted by Liesl at 3:33 PM on September 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

If my parents essentially penalized me for not having children, I would be bitter for the rest of my life.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:54 PM on September 10, 2016 [14 favorites]

Yes, 50/50.

I know-- have known for years-- a family of 3 adult siblings with one surviving elderly parent. Only one of the siblings has children. Parent has shown, and is showing, significant financial favour towards the sibling with kids. It has absolutely poisoned the relationships within the family. Don't be that parent.
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:28 PM on September 10, 2016 [4 favorites]

50-50 to the kids, and a sentimental heirloom (silver tea set? Old spoon collection? Old war medals? Wedding veil or engagement ring?) to each grandchild, preferably aligned with their interests.
posted by instamatic at 5:14 PM on September 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

My grandparents split their estate equally amongst their children, one of whom is childless and the others with varying numbers of kids. My mom was pretty generous with her share toward my sister and I, I'm sure my other aunts and uncles did what they felt was appropriate with their own.


My child-free aunt received the benefit of an additional annuity to be paid out monthly, set up for her without her knowledge in respect for the fact that she lived close by and was their primary caregiver in their last years. She felt weird about it, so she salved her conscience by sending a fat check once a month to each niece and nephew until she'd gotten around to all of us, which was a nice windfall and a thing she didn't have to do.

I was the only grandchild who was able to help clear out my grandparents' house, and while I did it because I could and because I love my family, a side benefit was that my aunts and uncles let me have anything I wanted that wasn't already claimed. For my part, I made sure certain things were distributed to my cousins and their spouses that I thought they'd appreciate, like making sure everyone got one of my grandma's eight billion homemade aprons, splitting up the pretty never-used hankies out of her top dresser drawer, etc. Stuff my mom and her siblings weren't really thinking about as important in the heat of the moment.
posted by padraigin at 5:14 PM on September 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

My recently departed grandfather left his estate to be equally divided between his several children. If any of them choose to give part of their share to their own children, that's their business. It was the only way to be fair. Some of them have kids, some have step kids, some have no kids. Everyone is validated - in all generations - by treating his kids the same. God bless him for it.
posted by AliceBlue at 5:22 PM on September 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

I have worked for attorneys who draft wills for upwards of twenty years now. The typical distribution is equally to the children, regardless of grandchildren. If grandchildren are specifically named, they are usually given a direct bequest before the "rest, residue and remainder" of the estate is divided between the children.
posted by Lucinda at 5:55 PM on September 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

My mom explicitly left her estate to the three of her children 40-40-20 (the 20% to me) because she had given me her old house, even though I was the local daughter and was taking care of her for ten years, and even though the house was a net loss because of all the work it needed. Even then, there was a blow-up that permanently upset me when my siblings found out she hadn't re-allocated one of her annuities and it was still 1/3-1/3-1/3 (they thought I had a hand in it; though they eventually came around, it wasn't until after they alienated me, my mother's lawyer, and her financial advisor). In my opinion, if you try too hard to figure out who deserves more money, unless there's a significant disability as mentioned above and everyone is in on the discussion, it's going to cause dissension. 50-50 makes sense.
posted by Peach at 6:06 PM on September 10, 2016 [4 favorites]

I'm the sibling without kids. I'm not expecting a lot from my parents: we're solidly middle class and both sides tend to live long lives. I'm expecting that they'll be fin in their golden years, but not have a lot leftover. If there is stuff left over, helping the grandkids with their education would be my ideal scenario.

So I think both are fair: your daughter isn't getting extra with 1/3 split, your grandkid is just getting a share. Your daughter is actually getting a bit less too (although it may allow her to spend what would otherwise be going into a college fund on other stuff).

Is/will one kid give you more help than the other? If so, I'd lean in the direction that favors the helpful kid slightly. Not so much in a bean counting way. But if Kid A took some hits (financially, career wise, etc) to help you out, that likely retained extra value to your estate, then I think that splitting it in a way that swings a bit more their way is fair.

Ultimately, 50/50 is probably the easiest way to do it, and depending on family, less likely to cause drama.
posted by ghost phoneme at 6:11 PM on September 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

I recently inherited money from a grandparent. I have a kid; neither of my siblings do (yet). The possibility that I'd get more because of my child crossed my mind, and it made me uncomfortable; I think it would have been unfair to my siblings. Fortunately for all of us, the split was even.
posted by Metroid Baby at 6:24 PM on September 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

50/50. Or in my case 33/33/33

My parent is not doing this. It is a penalty, no doubt about it, written to passive-aggressively demote me for my life 'choices'. My parent's parent did split evenly and my parent always considered an even split the fair way to go. But now, for some reason, they have changed their mind and it is intensely hurtful, in a triggering way that daughters of narcissistic parents may understand.

My two siblings are my parent's executors. I hope they will recognise the unfairness of the will but if they don't, I will definitely challenge it.
posted by Thella at 7:09 PM on September 10, 2016 [4 favorites]

My grandmother had four children and four grandchildren, although the grandchildren were not evenly distributed among the children. She split everything eight ways. We cousins were all independent financially, living in different cities or states from our parents, by then. It never occurred to me until reading this question that anyone might consider this arrangement to be unfair. Maybe the difference is that an equal split between the children's generation makes sense until the grandchildren are independent?
posted by SandiBeech at 7:30 PM on September 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Bringing the grandchildren into the equation such as a three way split it more to the singing with children seems based on perceived need. That's trying to be caring and thoughtful. Yes, raising kids costs money. But the childless sibling may also find themselves in need. Split it 50-50 because you cannot anticipate who needs it more.

And in my (childless) case the nieces and nephews know that in the end everything (if there is much) from the grandparents will wind up with them in the end anyway as the only two kids in that generation.
posted by Gotanda at 7:31 PM on September 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

50/50: an even split among siblings is the only fair way to go.

Splitting in thirds equally between John, Jane and Jane's kid is very unfair to John, and extremely favorable to Jane's kid --- don't forget, s/he'll inherit from Jane in the long run, so splitting in thirds essentially means John gets one-third and Jane's kid gets two-thirds.

It's unfair to give one of your kids more because they earn less ("they need more"), it's unfair to give one more because they're married or have kids or own/don't own a house or anything else.

Look, long into our adulthood one of my grandmothers would continue to put money in our birthday cards: my siblings and I could laugh about it --- I got $2 but they each got $5, "because they have children to support", as if that extra three bucks made a real difference! We COULD laugh, because the amounts and the reasoning were so silly. If our parents had split their wills like that, I wouldn't have fought it legally or anything, but it sure would have been a long lasting emotional kick in the teeth.
posted by easily confused at 7:36 PM on September 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

I think most people will be most comfortable if parents split things evenly between siblings and leave it to them to take care of the grandchildren. But there are situations where a different split can make sense for everyone, especially when financial needs differ dramatically.

I have two siblings, A and C. Neither A nor I plan to have kids, but C has 2 kids. Also, A and I both make significantly more money than C. We have an understanding between us that if something happens to me or to A, the bulk of our money will go to C to help with the kids. We're all totally fine with this and all understand that it's not a matter of loving one sibling more. It's just what is practical for us.

(Admittedly, it's different with parents pushing their adult children to give them grandchildren. Though we are quite delighted our sister gave us a niece and nephew to adore.)
posted by ktkt at 7:36 PM on September 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

Just another point about why it's better to leave things equally to your own children, and not worry about the grandchildren -- more grandchildren could be born before the will takes effect.
posted by chickenmagazine at 7:44 PM on September 10, 2016 [4 favorites]

I liked Granny's split, each kid got 10 shares, each grandkid got 3 shares, g-grandkids got 2 shares and gg-grandkids got 1. It was cool to get something and not feel left out.
posted by ridgerunner at 8:10 PM on September 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

I have no kids, my brother has one. My parents changed their will to cover the cost of college for their grandchild, and my brother and I will split the rest. (I make a lot more money than he does, so this is fine with me.)
posted by egeanin at 8:20 PM on September 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

Base it on needs, and ability to do paid work.

Does one child have a chronic medical condition that means that they can only work part time, or not at all? Give them more.

Does the grandchild have a chronic medical condition, or a learning disability? Give the parent of that grandchild more.

If needs and ability to work are equal for both adult children, and the grandchild has no extra needs, split it 50/50.
posted by Sockpuppets 'R' Us at 8:23 PM on September 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

I am leaving for an international trip to attend a meditation over an inheritance complicated by a straightforward will that included favoritism. Avoid at all cost. Give the grandchildren if possible a gift now like a college fund or a sentimental heirloom, otherwise, do a straightforward 50/50 split.

My dad did not intend at all for this disastrous mess of lawyers and possible criminal charges to result from his good intentions, but eight years later, here we are because his will was mildly complicated and death of a parent brings up sibling rivalry intensely.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 8:30 PM on September 10, 2016 [4 favorites]

If you are basing it on needs what's to say it couldn't be interpreted that the childless sibling might need more money since they will have no one to care for them in their old age?

I'd go 50/50 to the children. That's what seems least likely to cause stress and hurt feelings.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 8:32 PM on September 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

Just for another perspective about the 529s as a way to do deliver benefits to grandchildren, it can be corrosive to family relationships when one child has no children and much of the parents' assets are going to the nieces and nephews college funds. The siblings with children absolutely benefit--now they don't have to save as much/at all for the kids' college educations. All that 529 money (plus whatever it would have earned) is no longer in the inheritance pool, so the kid with no offspring takes a big hit when it comes time to distribute the estate. It might be considerate to gift money to that child along the way to even things out.

I know a grandmother with lots of grandchildren by two of her three kids. She has maxed out all of their 529s, which were established at birth. It's very hard on the one child with no kids, especially since the 529s have sucked about $1 million out of the estate, in effect costing that kid $333,000 before earnings.
posted by carmicha at 8:35 PM on September 10, 2016 [6 favorites]

My grandparents are in this exact situation and are dividing it 50/50 with the understanding that my mother will be leaving whatever is left of their money when she dies to me anyway.
posted by intensitymultiply at 8:56 PM on September 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Put a separate trust for the grand child, then 50/50 what's left.
posted by corb at 9:10 PM on September 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I used to write wills. I have written wills where all the children got equal shares and everyone thought it was wildly unfair; I have written them where the shares were terribly lopsided and everyone felt it was fair. There is no single definition of fair or unfair; it depends on the family, on the size of the estate, on the individual situations of the heirs*, and on the spoken and unspoken expectations everyone has about their family relationships and inheritance. (*This includes things like one child being much wealthier or poorer; one child or grandchild having an addiction; one child or grandchild having special needs that will require lifelong support; one child or grandchild providing the bulk of elderly caregiving to the will-writer.)

The single best thing you can do to ensure that your children continue to have a cordial relationship after your death is sit down and talk to them about your end-of-life wishes and your will, and explain the division of assets you've decided on and why you've decided on that division. In my experience, children may disagree with their parents' decision, but (as long as family relationships are reasonably cordial) they tend to respect it and understand that an "unfair" division (whether equal or unequal) is not a statement about their worth or love as a child, but a decision the parent made based on economics or disability or cost of long-term care or support provided during life or college costs or whatever. Long-term family divisions arise when parents DON'T discuss these matters with their children, leaving it as a surprise when they die, emotions are high, and everyone is guessing about motives. There is no correct, fair division, but your children will be more likely to accept and respect any decision you make if they're aware of it and the reasons for it in advance.

While you are discussing the general terms of your will (you don't have to discuss the specifics, but ideally the outlines shouldn't be a surprise to your heirs!), you should also take the opportunity to discuss your wishes for end-of-life care and the sorts of medical decisions you'd like them to make on your behalf -- one of the biggest factors in how "good" kids feel about a parent's death is if they feel like they were able to make decisions in concert with the parent's desires because they'd actually had a conversation about what those desires were. Also not a bad moment to go over funeral wishes.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:12 PM on September 10, 2016 [30 favorites]


When I worked in estate planning, I saw a lot of grandparents leave a specific amount ($10,000 or whatever) to each gkid in trust and the remainder was split between children.

Gkid inherits his/her parent's share if your child predeceases you. If your childless child predeceases you, you can direct his share to your grandchild.
posted by tippy at 10:24 PM on September 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

This is fascinating, because apparently most people would be unhappy with the way my wife's family did it. My wife's grandmother had two daughters, three granddaughters (my wife's two cousins and my wife, an only child). She split the estate evenly five ways and placed the grandchildren's shares in a trust, to begin dispensing interest on their twenty-first birthdays. I think this worked because her daughters received the same amount as one another and never had any access to the granddaughters' money.

Having that trust has been a godsend, as a person married to one of the granddaughters. It kept us fed during the phase of grad school in which otherwise we would have contracted scurvy; it helped my wife establish a solid credit rating at an early age; it dealt with chunks of rent; basically, neither of us could have the careers we do today without it.

When my wife's mother dies, my wife will inherit her chunk of the trust, and when my wife's aunt dies, her daughters will split that share fifty-fifty. No one in the family has ever had a problem with any of this.

I really, really think that for this to work it is necessary for the grandchildren's money to be completely unavailable to the parents' generation, though.
posted by Rush-That-Speaks at 10:52 PM on September 10, 2016 [5 favorites]

My grandparents were in the same situation as you. They left a third to my cousin, a third to my sister and a third to me. It resulted in some very hard feelings for my uncle who felt that his child should have gotten half and that my sister and I should have split half.

posted by 26.2 at 11:18 PM on September 10, 2016

I wouldn't punish one child for not having kids of their own. I'd just split it among your children equally.
posted by AppleTurnover at 2:27 AM on September 11, 2016

Another vote for 50:50 here.

My grandmother left her money between her 3 kids but left an "in perpetuity" discretionary trust fund to us grandchildren. It gave me money towards buying our home, money towards buying a large car and soon I will ask for money towards an extension on our home. My brother and cousins have accessed it for similar things and the trustees are careful to protect the original assets so it should be there for s all, going forward.

You can't control for "fair" as it can end up being a fairly subjective measure decided by the emotional states and personalities of those involved. For example I'm one of 6, my oldest 4 half siblings are my father's stepkids. My parents decided if my mother died last she would leave all of us 1/6th, if my father died last he would leave us, his biological kids 1/4 each and his stepkids 1/8 each. Mum has died now, my dad gifted us all the largest possible amount that couldn't later be counted as liable for inheritance tax when HIS parents died, and one sibling (who is well off) only accepted it in the appreciation of the spirit of generosity, and another whined to everyone that it wasn't enough and THEY should have gotten the rich sibling's share. It has been done and decided fairly, but the hard done by always think life is unfair, so they aren't happy.
posted by intergalacticvelvet at 2:47 AM on September 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

50/50 is fair. While 33/33/33 isn't blatantly unfair, and you could have discussion with John about whether this would bother him, and sort it all out, consider what would happen if Jane produced 2 more grandchildren before you died. Now you've set up a plan by which John gets 20%, and Jane's family gets 80%. This seems to me to be blatantly unfair.

I like the idea of funding a 529 and then splitting the remainder 50/50.
I like the idea of setting some percent (90) to be divided equally across the older generation and the remander (10) for the grandchild. And if more grandchildren started appearing, you could quietly adjust that to 80/20, but I wouldn't go below that, for John's sake.
posted by aimedwander at 5:30 AM on September 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

As a childless single woman who spent most of 2013 caring for my Dad during his terminal illness, here's my two cents/advice.

1. Talk to your kids individually and ask for their honest input.
2. Needs are one thing but also consider each child's contribution to the family. Has one of the kids sacrificed a lot of time to the family business, or invested their savings? Will the burden of caring for you as you age and/or the upkeep of the family home fall primarily on one of the kids?
3. Consider also what the children already received. Did you help one of the kids with college but couldn't do the same for the other kid (maybe because they didn't need it)? Did one of the kids get the family car?
4. Do your children know what your plans are? Are there things *you* expect from *them* in connection with the estate / taking care of you / end of life care?

re: 2. You might not outright *expect* e.g. your childless daughter to take care of you but a lot of the time, this is what happens. If you then leave more to the child with offspring it can feel really grating. It's not what happened with my own Dad but I have seen it in extended family and it's made my heart break for them.
posted by M. at 5:48 AM on September 11, 2016 [7 favorites]

Per stirpes.
posted by slkinsey at 6:57 AM on September 11, 2016

Response by poster: Well, a lot of interesting answers here. I had expected more division but “splitting evenly between children” is the hands down favorite. I like the idea of giving a small amount to the grandchild (and any later grandchildren) and also giving them a keepsake like a brooch, but then splitting the majority evenly between kids.

I’m in my mid-50s, so don’t know if I’ll need care later in life, or who would give it, though I suspect it would be my daughter, so I might also add a codicil adding 10% goes to a child that provides care, then small amount to g-kids, then 85% (or whatever) to be split evenly between kids.

And though it makes me a little anxious, I think the suggestion to talk to my kids about it is an important one. Though I think if I said “If I need care at the end, whoever provides it get’s 10% more money” sounds a bit like a bribe. So just a very general discussion covering split evenly-no machines if brain dead-cremation-ashes at Mount Shasta should cover it, right?

Thanks so much for all the input and sharing your stories. I’ll keep the question open for another day or two for anyone else who wants to add anything.
posted by mulcahy at 6:58 AM on September 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

just a very general discussion covering split evenly-no machines if brain dead-cremation-ashes at Mount Shasta should cover it, right?

Yeah there are some standard things to cover Maybe power-of-attorney also. This website has some good checklists and this one talks very specifically about having that conversation.
posted by jessamyn at 7:26 AM on September 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

I’m in my mid-50s, so don’t know if I’ll need care later in life, or who would give it, though I suspect it would be my daughter, so I might also add a codicil adding 10% goes to a child that provides care, then small amount to g-kids, then 85% (or whatever) to be split evenly between kids.

If you are in your mid-50s then you'll probably need to revisit your will a few times before you reach old age. If you write your will right now then it needs to fit your current situation. My lawyer friend told me that everyone over 18 needs a will and doubly so if they have any assets. So I'd suggest revisiting the terms of your will every time there is a significant change in your assets / family situation or health status.

Also, I wasn't necessarily advocating for adding extra money for the child who you expect will end up caring for you. I just wanted to warn you not to punish any of your kids for not having offspring *especially* because he or she (the way our society works, most likely she) might end up shouldering most of your care in your old age.
posted by M. at 9:27 AM on September 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

My grandparents have three children. One of my uncles is childless, the other has two children, and then my mother has one child (me). So that's three children and three grandchildren. The way they have it set up is that they set aside a specific amount that goes to me and my two cousins (the three grandchildren) and the rest of the estate is split equally between the three children. The amount that my cousins and I will get is a non-trivial inheritance, but it's still a pretty small percent of the estate (like 2% or something). Also, my cousins and I are all in our twenties, fwiw.
If the estate were relatively small, then a 50/50 split would probably make more sense.

My grandfather passed away a few years ago, but my grandmother is still alive, so I can't say for sure if their will be any issues when she passes away, but this is something that has been openly discussed with the family, which I think is definitely the way to go. To be honest, there's already some friction between my mother and her three siblings, but not because of this.

One other thing also worth considering is assets beyond savings/investments. To my knowledge, this is not something that my grandparents explicitly put in their will, and I have a hunch that this will be the thing that might cause a falling out, but they also have a lot of works of art and jewelry and the like that are worth a pretty significant amounts of money. I think sorting the non liquid assets out as much as possible would definitely be a good idea.

In your case, what is the relationship between your two children and the one grandchild? Even though the siblings in this case have had some issues, my childless uncle has a pretty good relationship with me and my two cousins, and he will be splitting his inheritance equally between the three grandchildren, so I think that also evens things out a little bit.

Oh, and one other aspect that might change this is if there is any question about your daughter's relationship with her child. I think this works in part because there is the assumption that the one grandchild will in some way share what is given to their parent (your child). If you thought this might not happen for some reason due to bad blood or something like that, then I would consider giving the grandchild some larger percentage of the estate, but based on your question, it doesn't sound like this is your concern.

Also, if there is a significant discrepancy in the financial situations of your two children of other extenuating circumstances (like a disability that affects ability to work or something), then in that case, I think it would be okay to look into a less even division of the estate.

With all that being said, I do feel like universally the best approach is to discuss this openly and honestly with all the adults involved.
posted by litera scripta manet at 9:29 AM on September 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

And in response to your update:

Though I think if I said “If I need care at the end, whoever provides it get’s 10% more money” sounds a bit like a bribe.

Yeah, I wouldn't say that. I think this is just something to keep in mind down the road if one child ends up stepping up to help care for you as you get older.
posted by litera scripta manet at 9:32 AM on September 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

Though I think if I said “If I need care at the end, whoever provides it get’s 10% more money” sounds a bit like a bribe.

Not at all! Providing care to an elder almost always means incurring significant expense, whether it be because you can't work full time, or you have to sacrifice career opportunities, or you have to hire someone to do the house stuff you'd ordinarily do yourself, or whatever. It is VERY fair, and not at all a bribe, to make sure that the person who steps up to do this work doesn't suffer for it.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:09 AM on September 11, 2016 [5 favorites]

My grandmother passed a few years ago, and in her will, she split her estate into four equal parts: 1 part for each of her three children, and 1 part split equally between the grandchildren.

We're a very small and very close family, so there was no drama about who got what or how much. It seemed like a very kind and fair way to split things up.
posted by burntflowers at 1:25 PM on September 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

My grandfather split his estate 50% for my uncle and 25% each to me and my brother, the only grandchildren. My father had been involved in the family business and received shares of stock in the company that bought it. I'm not sure if my grandmother's estate was split the same way; she died 10 years before grampa. Both were parceled out to me and my brother in 5 year intervals when we turned 25 and 28.
posted by brujita at 1:50 PM on September 11, 2016

I was disinherited by my great-uncle because of my dissolute life choices (I'm married 40 years, don't drink, just retired from teaching, go figure) and thought it was pretty funny. My mother thought it was awful and arranged to give me a cut of her inheritance from him.
posted by Peach at 1:51 PM on September 11, 2016

Modern per stirpes. Google it and then consult an estate attorney.
posted by qapla at 8:11 PM on September 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah, nthing have arrangements for the jewelry and other material goods. I've been through two estate settlements in the last three years, and the only thing I've seen be contentious is the jewelry, ESPECIALLY wedding/engagement/sentimental pieces.
posted by corb at 10:13 PM on September 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

" Though I think if I said “If I need care at the end, whoever provides it get’s 10% more money” sounds a bit like a bribe. "

You have a lot of options you can talk to your lawyer about, and you don't need to decide now! Tell your kids you're exploring options to provide compensation for the child who provides care -- this could be in the will, or it could be through a direct gift, or it could be through a life insurance policy that passes outside the will, or whatever. Just let them know that IF you need child-provided care later in life, you intend to give the child who provides it a gift of some magnitude. Later on, when it becomes important, you can decide whether you want it in or outside the will, and how much, and so on.

If you move in with a child and they end up providing ten years of care, maybe you want to pay off their house. Or maybe you have a disability care policy and move into a nursing home and you just want to provide $10,000 to the child who visits more often and manages your paperwork. Either is fine! You can always amend and decide later on; just let your kids know now, early in the planning process, that you'll be looking at doing that sort of thing later on. (It might even be your grandkid who manages your paperwork and drives you to appointments and so on -- they're often in a less-busy period of life and can do more.) No decision you make about your will now is final -- you have plenty of time to consider and revise, and you can make a lot of decisions later on about your estate as you know what your older years will look like. Similarly, as your children have grandchildren or marriages or divorces, you can continue to make decisions and changes about how you want to distribute money to grandkids and spouses and so forth! You don't have to make a lifetime decision now.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:26 PM on September 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

One thing I've noticed and learned, going through some of this stuff, is that a will should not be a thing that you write when you're healthy and then ignore for 30-50 years. It's a document that will change as your circumstances, and your children's, change. My in-laws have just been going through everything again because since they put their last will together, one has retired, they sold their house, one sibling got married, and there are now two grandchildren. Stipulations in the will based on the state of their life before were no longer valid, so they made adjustments and discussed them with everyone involved. I imagine that if they were in poor health and one child was providing the bulk of the care, there would be further changes. And assuming that they both survive until the grandchildren are independent adults (which is entirely possible), or if one of the children or grandchildren became disabled and unable to pursue full-time work, I would expect changes there too.

There's not a need to write a long-term care scenario into the will right now, because it's not relevant, assuming you're in good health. If it does come up, it may make sense to change percentages, or to leave things 50/50 and provide other assistance if the family labor is lopsided. When that is relevant, you'll know.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:40 AM on September 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

50/50, making sure you count all assets (so that someone living far away isn't given a full share in the childhood home that all the kids know that they will never live in).

Now WRT the thoughtful apportioning of physical items:
I was the only grandchild who was able to help clear out my grandparents' house, and while I did it because I could and because I love my family, a side benefit was that my aunts and uncles let me have anything I wanted that wasn't already claimed.
My grandma moved from a giant, three-story Victorian to a small house, and lived another 20 years -- but I was there while she was packing, and I ended up with Grandpa's WWII dog tags and a war medal (the only things left from his service), plus a pair of her gold cuff links. I don't think any other of the grandkids really got anything, because it went to the aunts & uncles.

Later on when an aunt died, a lot of the family were there the day my uncle moved out, and some of my aunt's collections (Baleek, jewelry) were divided up pretty much on the spot. It wasn't well thought out, because everyone was so emotional, and I suspect there were some hurt feelings. No one wants that, but you're not thinking right when you're upset -- so make good decisions now.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:03 AM on September 12, 2016

I wanted to chime in to support the notion of talking to the kids in advance. My mom has let me know that there won't be a strict 50-50 split because she wants to leave my sister her house. She explained her reasoning (basically, why she was a little more worried about my sister's future), and made it very clear this wasn't about valuing or loving me any less. Because of that, if that's way things play out (mom's will could certainly change as her life continues), it won't cause hurt feelings or tension between the siblings. However you end up addressing the issue of caring for you in your old age, which I think you should discuss with a lawyer before floating a specific concept with your kids, it'll be easier for them to accept if it isn't a surprise and you've made it clear it is in the nature of compensation for the time and expenses involved and not a reflection of how much you love and value them each.
posted by Alluring Mouthbreather at 7:38 AM on September 12, 2016 [3 favorites]

50/50 for the kids, and if by some chance your child who has a child predeceases you, their child gets their share.
posted by poppunkcat at 4:22 AM on September 15, 2016

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