Parents may claim to love all their children equally, but their wills often reveal that they actually have favourites, new research reveals.
Academics from a number of universities examined the bequests made in the wills of some still-living Americans between 1995 and 2010. Their data was collected from the Health and Retirement Study, which is run by the University of Michigan and surveys 20,000 Americans every two years.
They found that as many as one third of parents do not plan to divide their assets equally among their children. This number has significantly increased over the last few years. Unequal wills have “more than doubled between 1995 and 2010, rising from 16 percent to almost 35 percent”, the researchers claimed.
The dramatic shift could be because of the changing nature of the family, they suggested. Wills which do not share assets equally are more common among stepfamilies and those with absent children. Researchers found that stepchildren are between 28 and 39 per cent more likely to be left out of a will completely than biological children. Although if stepchildren are more than ten years younger than the stepparent, the odds they will be included increase significantly.
The study authors also identified a gender divide among stepfamilies. Mothers with stepchildren were 38 per cent less likely to include them in a will than their biological children, whereas fathers are only 27 per cent less likely to do so.
It will be difficult to predict how people’s attitudes will change in the future, the researchers suggested. Couples who start a family without getting married at all “may behave differently from those created by divorce and remarriage”, the study read.
Earlier this year, an American study indicated that parents tend to favour daughters if they are drafting a will during hard economic times.
Duncan Watson is a Stowe Family Law solicitor who specialises in wills and probate cases. He suggested that there could be a number of explanations for unequal wills. He said:
“It could be that one child has received part of their inheritance early, during their parents’ lifetime, or perhaps their parents recognise that one child is going to have a lower earning capacity or greater need for money. This could be due to disability, or having a job which does not pay as well as their siblings’ profession, for example if a daughter is an investment banker and a son is a teacher. So it could be down to pragmatism.”
“However, it could also be down to disharmony within the family, or favouritism. I see all of this and more when dealing clients about making their wills. If people feel they have been treated unfairly in a will they should seek specialist advice as they may be able to redress the balance by making a claim through the courts or negotiating a settlement with the other beneficiaries.”