There are several common reasons why someone would leave unequal bequests:
- Strained relationship
- Estranged relatives
- An attempt to even out the amount given to loved ones because an individual may already have received a significant amount of property from you during your lifetime
- Increased need of the beneficiary
Whatever the reason, unequal bequests have an increased risk of someone disputing the validity of the document. For that reason, you should tread carefully when leaving different amounts of property between beneficiaries who expect equal distributions.
If you are modifying existing documents in a way that will decrease the percentages given, I do not advise using a codicil or trust amendment. These will accompany the original document, alerting beneficiaries to the fact they originally were to receive more. Instead, revoke your last will and testament and create an entirely new document. If a trust is the primary planning tool, a Restatement may be a smart choice.
In most cases, discussing your intentions and reasons with beneficiaries during your lifetime can avoid significant pain and potential court involvement later. For those who are unable to discuss with family, leave a letter of explanation. Keep in mind this letter should not be one last jab at the individual but should be an attempt at reconciliation and a recognition that they may be surprised or unhappy with your decisions. Leave the sealed letter with your last will and testament.
Each estate plan is unique, just as the needs of each family are unique, be clear on your intentions and prepare your estate plan with a qualified Estate Planning attorney.
Heidi S. Webb, Attorney at Law, serves clients in Daytona Beach, Ormond Beach, Port Orange, Melbourne and beyond with matters of Elder Law, Estate Planning, and Probate Law.