Wills and Children: Who Will Get Your Money?

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Every Friday I answer a reader’s question.  If you have a question, you can contact me.

First, I’ll take a moment to brag. 

My parents love me more than my two brothers!  They recently revealed that I will be receiving a larger portion of the family inheritance than either of my brothers.  Here is the split: Biggest Brother 33%.  Bigger Brother 33%.  Me- Little Brother 34%.  Ahh.  Joseph, now I know how good it felt to be the favorite.  Some in my family, including my parents, have insinuated that I am receiving 34% simply because the lawyer put our names alphabetically. 

Ok, now to the question.  A reader writes:

“I used to think I would leave more money to a child who was disabled, or perhaps a missionary, or in some kind of lower budget situation, maybe widowed with kids, whatever. Since I have children, I am afraid I’d have to leave money equally to my kids regardless of their situations.

Should You Leave Money in Your Will for Your Children?

A good man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children, but a sinner’s wealth is stored up for the righteous. (Proverbs 13:22 NIV)

The Bible does support the idea that it is honorable to leave an inheritance for your children.  Still, the question remains, what if your children are financially independent?  Should they still get money from your will?  Here are two common responses:

Leave the kids the money – Because your kids are faithful with money, they should get the money, and they should be entrusted to use it responsibly.  Since they are good stewards, they can give the money away if they wish.

Leave the money to a church, missions, or a charity – Because your kids are faithful with money, they have no need for the money, so it should be given to charity.

Kids and Wills: A Guide For Distributing Your Wealth

  1. Have Open Dialogue

    When talking wills and inheritance, open communication is essential.  If you prefer to end up with a dysfunctional family as described in the Grisham book, The Testament, then you should mislead your kids and give them the impression they will actually be getting an inheritance.  If, however, you love your kids, talk to them.  This is especially true if they are good money managers.  Ask them for their thoughts and input.  You don’t want your kids to think they are being punished for handling their money well. 

  2. Not An “Either”, “Or” Discussion

    The choice does not need to be all family or all charity.  You could divide your inheritance between charity and family. Perhaps 1/2 goes to the kids and 1/2 goes to a charity.  Again, this will be important to discuss with your kids.  You do not necessarily need input, but share why these charities are important so that when the will is read, your kids can feel proud about your decisions, not envious about receiving a limited share. As your kids become more financially secure, you could revisit the discussion and adjust the allocations to family and charity. 

  3. Divide the Estate Equally Among Siblings

    An inheritance is a loving gesture.  If one sibling receives a lager share of the inheritance, what you are communicating (intentionally or not) is a preference.  Leave your kids a legacy of love, not a reason for jealousy and arguing.  Regardless of how well your kids handle money, I think money given to children should be split equally, unless there has been a prior discussion where one sibling would prefer for the others to receive their share.   

I’m interested in your thoughts …

 What if junior is a bad money manager?  Should you consider cutting him or her out of the will?  Should the estate be divided equally among siblings?

Do you really think that the only reason I am getting a larger inheritance is alphabetical?


  1. Arthur @ FinancialBondage.org says

    I would put a few basic rules in place that must be followed before getting any money. They can begin the rules today so you can see their progress.

    1. I’d make sure they go through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University to make sure they know how to handle the money when they get it.

    2. They are paying off debt and saving and giving. Giving with the right spirit. A good heart and good intentions.

    3. They are weaning themselves off of credit and credit cards.

    4. They are following a monthly written budget. That is, they are planning what to do with their money before they spend it.

    Giving someone a large chunk of money who are not doing these things can be a recipe for disaster. I know having been there myself. At age 17, I inherited $16,000 from a relative that died. I had no training or knowledge about money at all. I did it the worlds way. And I quickly spent every penny of that $16K in less than 5 years.

    • says

      Large chunks of money can be a disaster. I agree that the interitance should be a bless and can only be a blessing if they are ready for the money.

  2. Scott Ferguson says

    As you stated, you don’t have to choose children or charity. You can do both. While flat out giving a portion to charity in your will is the easiest and most common way of including charity, in the USA at least, there are a LOT of ways you can use your charitable gift to actually provide more money for both your family and the charity (and less in taxes) if you will visit with the chartiy and an estate financial advisor ahead of times. There are various kinds of Charitable Remainder Trusts, Unitrusts, Annuity Trusts, etc. that can provide income, decrease taxes, give to charity, and give to family.

  3. says

    Do you really think that the only reason I am getting a larger inheritance is alphabetical?
    No, we youngest children are always preferred, and with good reason — you always make rough drafts before making the final (best) copy. :-)

    What if junior is a bad money manager? Should you consider cutting him or her out of the will? Should the estate be divided equally among siblings?
    If one of the kids is a bad money manager, the money could be put into some form that would allow him to have it, but hopefully not to abuse it. For instance, it could be paid out over the course of several years, or he could only have the interest for several years, or until he reaches a certain age. In this way, he couldn’t blow through several hundred thousand dollars, like so many lottery winners, and then be left with expensive habits and no money for them, but the interest could allow him to live modestly (with or without working) for a long period of time. Even smaller inheritances that wouldn’t allow just *too* much financial insanity could be doled out to keep him from wasting it all on frivolous spending.

    Parents shouldn’t punish their successful children by leaving them a smaller inheritance “because they don’t need it”; if anything, they should be rewarded for being wise with money. But this would breed sibling rivalry, so in general, the money should be divided equally among siblings, unless there are extenuating circumstances — for instance, one child has special needs or disabilities, and s/he would be more or less bereft without the money.

    My grandparents left each of their grandchildren money which each will inherit on his or her 35th birthday (or which could be used to pay for education earlier). I believe it was their hope that by that age, we wouldn’t waste the money but use it sensibly. The earlier you give money, the more foolishly it is spent (usually); so it would be wise to give it with strings attached, like Arthur stated.
    .-= Kathy´s last blog ..It all adds up =-.

    • says

      I like the idea of some ‘restrictions’ depending on the kids financial health. I agree that financially healthy kids shouldn’t be ‘punished’ for doing a great job. Truth is they are more likely to make wise choices with the money.

  4. says

    One side of my family the grandparents split it evenly between all the living children (two died before the last parent).

    On my father’s side of my family the last parent had the will very slanted towards two kids and the rest received between $5,000 and $1. This caused a lot of hurt feelings and resentment.

    Seeing the difference convinced my husband and I to split it evenly between our five children. No favoritism here (of course that nicely divide to 20% each).
    .-= Bucksome´s last blog ..Making Impressions at the Grocery Store =-.

    • says

      Wow – between $5000 and $1. I could see how that could cause issue. I would need some very significant reasons not to also do an even split (except for the fact that I also currently have 3 kids).

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