(Money Magazine) -- All of our children are adults. One is always asking us for financial help; the others manage on their own. Can we take this "extra help" into account when we divide our estate in our will? -- J.D., Michigan
Definitely. Please don't punish the responsible ones by giving them less overall. -- Christine Persons-Pratt, Orlando, Fla.
You can, though I wouldn't advise it. Your children will be siblings for life, and their financial situations can change at any time. The one experiencing difficulty now may be the one who will provide emotional support for you in the future. It's not all about money; it's about love, too. -- Ray Domire, Delaware, Ohio
It really depends on why your child needs help. If he or she is squandering money and not being responsible, perhaps you should leave less. But if the son or daughter in need is acting responsibly and simply having a streak of bad luck, then no. -- Oscar Marroquin, Lake St. Louis, Mo.
When you help one child who asks for assistance, you should give an equal amount to the other child. -- Carol Mikesh, Lakewood, Colo.
It's okay to even things out in your will. But to ensure there are no hard feelings after you are gone and your estate is settled, meet now with all your children to explain your plans. -- Steve Smith, New Bloomfield, Mo.
Perhaps the one who never asks for help doesn't need it, and doesn't feel bad that you're helping the other one. Just split things evenly. -- Abbie Digeon, Millburn, N.J.
Decline to help unless the child is in serious straits. Being an enabler doesn't help that child, and it makes equitable decisions difficult down the line. -- Hampden Smith, Lexington, Va.
Of course you can -- the question is, Should you? All our kids are different; is there really any reason to treat them as mathematical equals? -- David Smith, Sierra Vista, Ariz.
The expert says:
What's fair is not always equal, and what's equal isn't always fair. It's not unusual for adult children to have different money needs and different resources, and to demonstrate different levels of financial responsibility. When a child is struggling, perhaps because he works in a worthy but poorly paid profession or has recently lost his job, slipping him a little dough every so often can make a parent feel good. There's no need for you to keep track of that help.
On the other hand, if the child has yet to learn how to manage money wisely, or if the amount lent will take a noticeable bite out of the parents' estate, document the loan in writing and then have that amount deducted from his share of your assets before distributions are made. Otherwise, after you're gone, your other children out of their fair share of your estate, and the feelings of jealously and resentment that could bubble up as a result might drive a wedge between even the closest of siblings. -- Victoria Collins, a financial planner and the co-author of "Best Intentions: Ensuring That Your Estate Plan Delivers Both Wealth and Wisdom."
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