The help desk: 'I'm writing my will - should I divide everything equally between my children?'
'It is not your business to equalise their status in life at this late stage'
Q. I am in my late sixties and I have recently started to make a will. I have two daughters. One is married and earns good money as a dentist, and she and her husband own a nice house. Her elder sister is a single parent to my lovely granddaughter, aged three. She's talented and clever but has not been so lucky and things have always been difficult for her financially.
I own my house and also a small flat that I rent out, so, depending on what my old age brings, there could be quite a bit to pass on. My instinct is to leave the greater part to my elder daughter, as I can see she will always struggle, and it would make the most difference to her and my granddaughter. But my partner (who is not their father) is adamant that this will cause bad feeling between them (though they've always got on well) and says I should divide everything equally. That just doesn't seem fair to me. What should I do?
A. If money were just money, if we did not so readily equate it with worth, if it did not have a track record of tearing families apart and causing bloody wars, then your Robin Hood policy would make a lot of sense. Yes, it's fair, in a way. You elder daughter is likely to need the money more. But do you really think your younger one will see it that way?
She has done well in life, got herself qualified and settled, and might reasonably expect a bit of a pat on the back from her mother. Instead, she will see the "reward" going to her less successful sister.
I wonder if you have any siblings yourself. I have five, and during our childhood, the work of the fairness police never stopped. Tape measures were routinely employed in the division of chocolate. Have I forgotten the time when two of my sisters inexplicably, outrageously, returned from Carnaby Street wearing jumbo cord miniskirts from Kids in Gear? No, I have not. Fraternal competition for resources is ferocious, because, in our hearts, it is a competition for love.
We never really grow out of this, and most of us are still mentally counting out the Smarties. My guess is that if you followed your plan, it would cause anguish from which the loving relationship between your daughters would never recover.
So I say you divide it down the middle. It is not your business to equalise their status in life at this late stage (or indeed, a much later stage, as here's hoping you've got a few good years in you yet). In any case, her half of your money will have a greater impact on the life of your poorer daughter. If it's your granddaughter you're thinking of, leave some money to her. But remember that any children your other daughter produces after you die will not have received the same benefit. So it goes on.
It's your money, though. And if you decide to follow your plan, explain your decision to your daughters without delay. I've seen the heartbreak caused by an unexpected "snub" in a parent's will, and the pain is that much worse when there's no longer the opportunity to ask why.
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