We’ve seen it too many times in our estate litigation practice. An adult child moves in with an elderly parent and looks after them in the years leading up to the parent’s death. The parent wants to acknowledge the help the child has given and the sacrifice they’ve made so, before they die, they amend their will to include an additional gift or percentage share of their estate to the caregiver child.
When the parent dies, the other children in the family are crushed. They all loved their parents equally and were expecting an equal division of the estate. An estate that’s divided 60-20-20 amongst three siblings hardly seems fair to them.
But what if it is? What if the caregiver child gave up their career early to look after the parent? What if they put their own social life and outside interests on hold to perform the daily tasks that needed to be done? Isn’t that child entitled to some recognition for these sacrifices?
The issue is a simple one: fairness and equality can be two different things. When fairness trumps equality, and requires an unequal division of an estate, that’s when the problems begin, because fairness means different things to different people.
The solution? Talk
Eldercare provided by one of several children is a common situation and, in my experience, family members should discuss estate expectations, and the earlier the better. So much can be gained by talking while the parent is still alive and able to express their thoughts and wishes.
The children too have a chance to express their thoughts. For example, what if one child actually wanted to contribute more to eldercare but didn’t want to usurp the role of the child currently giving care? The only way that will come out is through a family discussion.
Yes, it can be awkward starting a conversation about eldercare and estate issues. No one wants to appear needy or greedy. But the last thing the parent wants after they die is family disharmony and bitter relationships. To avoid that, take the bull by the horn, swallow hard, and start talking. Even if bad feelings emerge, it’s better to air the issues now while there is still time to resolve them.
This recent Globe and Mail article reinforces the need for professional advice in drafting a will, but also has a good discussion on the fairness versus equity issues.
Thanks for reading … Have a wonderful day!