Got Shortchanged in the Will? How to Handle an Unequal Inheritance

how to handle unequal inheritance

Got Shortchanged in the Will? How to Handle an Unequal Inheritance

Getting shortchanged in an inheritance can feel like a slap in the face. You expect certain heirlooms or a equal portion of the estate. Instead, one sibling gets way more money or the family home, while the others feel snubbed, drama inevitably erupts. Cue the yelling, finger pointing, accusations, and lawyers getting involved.

What gives? Was dad playing favorites? Did mom secretly hate her son-in-law? Most of the time, there’s a reasonable explanation for these uneven estate distributions. But hurt feelings and resentment often get in the way of seeing that.

In this blog, we’ll explain why inheritances often aren’t doled out equally amongst kids, grandkids etc. Sometimes, it’s just an oversight in creating the will that nobody caught. Other times, families are shocked to find out one heir shouldered way more caregiving duties or paid off debts that now get repaid through a bigger inheritance share.

If you’ve been scratching your head about getting short-changed, don’t go straight towards conflict or legal threats just yet. Let’s talk through some constructive ways to handle these tricky conversations to keep your family intact.

Why Parents Distribute Assets Unequally Among Heirs

When parents die and leave behind an estate or assets to pass on, there is often an assumption of equality – that is, that resources will be divided evenly or fairly among surviving children or other heirs. However, the reality is often the opposite. There are a number of reasons why parents may deliberately or inadvertently distribute inheritances in unequal proportions. Though reasons differ, the aftermath feels similar – confusion, assumptions of favoritism, resentment between heirs.

Here are some motivations we often see behind uneven asset distribution in estate plans:

  1. One child already received financial help – Parents may distribute unevenly to make up for past help given to one child, like paying college tuition or medical bills. These aren’t always documented transactions, leaving heirs unaware.
  2. Rewards for being a caregiver – Children who help aging parents the most – whether physically caring for them daily or managing household affairs – often inherit more for their efforts.
  3. Special needs compensation – Parents may allocate extra funds to a child with physical or intellectual disabilities who will need financial help and care long-term.
  4. Continuing a family business – Parents sometimes leave a greater inheritance share to a child who commits to running the family farm, practice, or other enterprise after the parents pass on.

Of course, parents don’t always clarify their reasoning to heirs beforehand. When sizeable asset inheritance gaps emerge after mom or dad dies, simmering assumptions quickly damage sibling relationships.

The Emotional Fallout of Unequal Inheritances

Even small inheritance differences cause heirs to question their worth in parents’ eyes. Larger discrepancies compound hurt feelings over unequal treatment.

“Mom must have loved my sister more than me if she inherited the house.”

“I took care of Dad full time after his stroke. My brother Dan didn’t visit once before Dad died – why did he getthe investment accounts?”

Unequal inheritances often ignite accusations around favorites, resentment over past family issues, and assumptions of behind-the-scenes manipulation regarding estate distribution.

We also see the lasting impacts of these feelings play out over time through damaged or severed family relationships as inheritance disputes drag on. Heirs receiving less may battle anxiety or depression over the perceived injustice. Fighting over personal property distribution is common when some beneficiaries believe they deserve more. Pressure mounts for primary inheritors to “share” assets with others who were left with substantially less. And lengthy beneficiary disputes settled through litigation only deepens divides.

Sadly, estate conflicts drain families physically, emotionally, and financially. What could heal hurts instead prolongs pain.

Steps to Take When Inheritances Differ Substantially

If you find yourself in this situation, reflect first before reacting. There may be context around the uneven asset distribution you aren’t yet aware of.

Document your own questions to consider. What was your relationship with this parent over time? How often did you interact? Are you aware of any financial support others provided for this parent (caregiving, paying medical bills, household assistance, etc.)?

Armed with more information, deeper family conversations often help ease tensions over inheritance differences.

We also encourage heirs in this situation to:

  1. Ask the executor questions – inquire about legal specifics in the will or trust and parent’s wishes. Just stick to facts rather than emotional accusations.
  2. Consider family mediation – schedule time for heirs to explain hurt feelings and the executor to clarify estate decisions in a moderated discussion.
  3. Consult an estate planning attorney – understand legal options, the time and financial costs of fighting a will, and the likelihood of winning.

While boiling emotions make rushed reactions understandable, patience goes a long way when inheritance amounts differ. Even perceived inequities take time and wisdom to best address.

Contesting Your Inheritance: Legal Grounds for Challenging Unequal Splits

While parents generally have broad discretion on how to allocate inheritances, there are limitations around unequal treatment that may spark legal action. If you believe a will or trust blatantly and unfairly discriminates against rightful heirs without just cause, you may potentially contest the inheritance distribution.

Here are common scenarios that may give sufficient weight to legally contest an unequal inheritance division:

  • Undue Influence — If there is credible evidence that the deceased was coerced, manipulated, tricked or pressured by a beneficiary into drafting the estate plan a certain way, this can form the basis of a legal challenge.
  • Lack of Mental Capacity — If medical records or testimony can substantiate that the deceased lacked sound mind or judgement in their final years due to illness, heirs can challenge if they were inappropriately left out of inheritance decisions.
  • Improper Execution — Wills and trusts must comply with state laws on proper signing, witnessing and notarization processes. Legal contests can successfully demonstrate sham execution or document tampering that renders inheritance directives void.

The threshold for winning an inheritance contest on legal merits is high and nuanced on a case-by-case basis. Consult an estate planning attorney to receive guidance on prospect for success before initiating action so expectations align with practical realities.

Tips for Parents on Leaving Unequal Inheritances

Many inheritance disputes arise more from poor communication than the actual asset differences. Problems often brew when uneven distributions emerge as total surprises after a parent dies.

Your estate plan is your legacy – not just financially, but relationally. Do your future heirs a favor and clarify your decisions while you still can.

Our Coral Gables estate planning attorneys offer this guidance for parents pondering unequal estate distributions:

  • Document it – Formalize your specific reasons for uneven division in your will or trust for transparency.
  • Discuss it in advance – Have open conversations explaining your decisions to heirs before you pass away. This prevents assumptions.
  • Compensate gaps separately – Consider using life insurance proceeds to balance out large asset discrepancies beyond the estate.
  • Involve a mediator if needed – Ask a neutral party to facilitate communication around explanations heirs may struggle to accept.

While uncomfortable, these conversations help prevent fractured families down the road.

When Do You Need Professional Guidance?

Speaking with a will lawyer equips you to handle unequal inheritance scenarios wisely. This saves relationships and assets.

We help clients proactively by:

  • Custom-crafting Florida estate plans meeting specific family needs
  • Guiding discussions explaining inheritance decisions to heirs
  • Using insurance and other means to offset large asset distribution gaps\
  • Mediating tense conversations when volatile emotions erupt between heirs

And if disputes still occur, our attorneys can objectively assess legal positions of heirs considering litigation. We also represent clients in cases arising after a probate case commences. Our goal always lies in resolving matters fairly to avoid tearing families further apart.

Every family situation differs – what works for one may not serve another. Protect your legacy and your loved ones with informed inheritance planning choices tailored to your distinct needs.

Contact us today to schedule a review of your current plan or get the process started if you lack documentation. Our team proudly serves Coral Gables families and can help answer any questions on your mind.

Author Bio

Justin Stivers is the founder and managing attorney of Stivers Law, an estate planning firm specializing in wills, probate, trust administration, and financial risk management services. Justin’s approach goes beyond just creating legal documents. From aligning investments with estate plans to ensuring comprehensive insurance coverage, he safeguards a client’s legacy from unforeseen circumstances. His commitment extends beyond individual transactions, fostering lifelong partnerships to provide ongoing support and guidance.

With an impressive track record, Justin is licensed by the Florida and the Tennessee State Bars. His professional portfolio boasts Series 65 registration as a Registered Investment Advisor, the Wealth Management Specialist™ designation, and a 2-15 License for Health, Life, and Annuities. His dedication to excellence has earned him positions like Board Member of the Estate Planning Council of Greater Miami, Business Eagle Member of the Florida Justice Association, and active membership in esteemed organizations like the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.

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