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Cindy Bittner's stepdaughter and step-grandchildren (on video) are in her will along with her biological children.
Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News
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By Pamela Yip
The Dallas Morning News
Creating a will that is fair to beneficiaries doesn't always mean dividing your estate in equal shares. You want be fair. But there's a lot of room for interpretation.
"I tell my clients that 'fair' doesn't always mean 'equal,'" said Wade Chessman, president of Chessman Wealth Strategies in Dallas. "I recommend that they love their children equally but treat them uniquely."
Parents often struggle when deciding whether to leave one child more than another, or how much to leave members of an extended family, said Michael Wald, estate planning lawyer at Underwood Perkins PC in Dallas.
"For some reason, we have a cultural notion that equal is the same as fair," he said. "This is the notion so much so that often an unequal distribution is considered unnatural, and unnatural distributions raised the chance of a will contest by magnitudes."
Experts advise that you consider the needs of each beneficiary.
"Sometimes one child is well-off and doesn't need the inheritance. Sometimes only one child has not yet been through college," Wald said.
A child may also have special needs, leading you to leave more to that person.
"In many situations, treating each child according to his or her needs is more fair and more closely duplicates what a parent would do if still alive," Wald said.
You're not required to distribute your assets "quantitatively" equally among your children, said Norm Lofgren, estate planning attorney at Looper Reed & McGraw PC in Dallas.
"Assume for a moment that Mom and Dad have two children," he said. "Both have college degrees. One is a financially successful businessman earning several hundred thousand dollars each year, and the other is by choice a minister earning less than $50,000 each year.
"If Mom and Dad decided to just divide their modest estate equally between their two children, have they done the fair thing? There is no perfect answer."
The issue of fairness in a will also surfaces with blended families in which there are children from previous marriages.