Children look for equal love from their parents. So, when it comes to inheritance nothing short of a formulaic equal split is touted as the best solution.
Really? Is estate planning that impersonal?
A lot of factors need to be considered to ensure a fair division of assets including circumstances of the beneficiaries, their financial position and needs, family dynamics, gifts received, and the list goes on.
First of all, let’s look at situations when the parent might want to assign a different amount or percentage share to their children.
A differently-abled child, either physically or mentally, might need extra financial support.
If you are running a family business and one of your children has a larger share in the business than the rest, then you might want to compensate the other children with a bigger share in your financial assets.
Sometimes the distribution of multiple properties can create inequities. For instance, a son might get a 2-BHK property in a city, since he is settled there, while another gets a house in a smaller hometown.
Here, the parents might want to evaluate the property value of both and adjust for the valuation differences in the distribution of the rest of their wealth.
So, equitable rather than equal funding should be the rule in estate planning.
How to go about it?
Step 1 – Fund goals
The first step is to support children in the achievement of their life goals. One of your children might want to become a doctor while another dreams of running her own start-up. It is important to give wings to children’s aspirations while also not necessarily subscribing to their whims and fancies. The idea is to arrive at a consensus while not using the opportunity to steer the career in your preferred direction.
Step 2 – Get the timing right
Wealth distribution can happen within your life with a trust setup. The Trust needs to have a clearly articulated purpose statement while also giving its trustees broad discretion.
For instance, the stated purpose could be to advance the vocational preference of children. Sometimes, parents who feel that a particular child is not financially responsible, prefer the trust route – whereby all children might get an equal amount but not outright.
Step 3 – Communicate
This is perhaps the most important of all to preserve family harmony.
Whatever method you arrive at, ensure you are sharing it with your children as well. It removes the element of surprise in the will while also giving perspectives you might not be aware of.
Moreover, it provides a forum for feelings to be dealt with upfront and avoid disputes later. Some parents also use the “terrorem” clause* in their will to safeguard transfers. It effectively results in a beneficiary forfeiting her share in the estate if the will is contested in the court.
Fair doesn’t always have to mean equal. Rather focusing on being equitable and ensuring family harmony at all times may be the best path.
* According to experts in estate planning there are some factors that need to be kept in mind. The Indian Succession Act, 1925, and the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, govern the rights of inheritance for Hindus and neither recognize the concept of an in-terrorem clause. These clauses are inserted as a precautionary measure to have a more persuasive value with the courts. The right is always available to a legal heir to challenge an estate.