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Splitting assets unequally can turn children against one another

When doing your estate planning and splitting up assets, it's important to very carefully consider how your decisions can impact the relationships your children have with one another. Unequal division can be problematic.

For example, one man had about 200 acres of land and five children. Three of the kids wanted land. They wanted to build homes and keep living in the area. The other two had no desire to live there, they said they didn't want the land, and they agreed to give it to one of the other three. He had been working hardest to take care of the elderly man, so that was his reward. The split meant two of them got 40 acres, two got nothing, and one child got 120 acres.

The problems began when the elderly man won a lawsuit due to illness and got $300,000. The kids didn't want that just to be divided five ways, like the grandfather proposed. Those who had opted out of the land said, since they'd given the land to one of the others, that he should then have to give them his share of the money. They felt this would make things more fair, even though they'd agreed to the land split before the money was even part of the estate.

The end result was that all five children began fighting and arguing, and they eventually stopped speaking. It ripped the family apart. In many ways, the grandfather would have just been best off to split both the money and land equally into five pieces, forcing them to take equal shares. They then could have sold the land or spent the money as they saw fit.

Every situation is different, but this example shows why you must consider your legal decisions for your will and estate plan very carefully. You want the assets to help your children, not ruin their relationships.

Source: The Simple Dollar, "Inheritance Feuds: A Cautionary Tale," Trent Hamm, accessed Oct. 21, 2016

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