Some people think that fair and equal are the same thing. You may be one of those people. If you are, I respectfully disagree.

I respect your position. You may aim for a world which I think is unattainable.  Here are a few of my core beliefs.

* Life is not fair.
*I treat people the way I want to be treated.
* All human life matters and every human soul has value.
* People do not have equal gifts, intelligence, or talents. It is beyond my capacity to change that reality.
* We do what we do because we believe what we believe.

Trust attorneys have a saying, “fair is not equal, and equal is not fair.” Collectively they have worked with thousands of (imperfect) families for decades. They and their clients struggle with problems like this.

John is close to 90, has three children and is a widow. His wife passed a year ago and now John is contemplating how to divide his estate among his three children. He thinks he will give each child the same amount.

Is that fair? Perhaps, but you probably want to know more. Here’s a bit about each child.

The middle- aged oldest daughter rendered a disproportionate amount of the care for mom in mom’s last months. She sacrificed time with her husband, kids, and her job. She took care of mom’s physical needs and both women got past those embarrassing times. She was mom’s chauffeur et al.  She and her husband have three children.

The middle child is a daughter who lives in another state, hundreds of miles away. She couldn’t visit during mom’s last months. She’s divorced, with six children.

The youngest child is a son. He kept the family business afloat by working 60-80-hours per week and by refinancing his home. He sent checks to support mom and his sister. His sacrifice of time, convenience and ego were distinct from his sister. He was with mom a tenth the time of his older sister.

If John were your friend, how would you counsel him to divide his estate? How would you deal with the tension between fair vs equal?

Your choices are based on your values. Our time of influence is fleeting. We won’t be alive in 100 years. We create our legacy by what we do every day. Sometimes we choose wisely and act adroitly. Other times we fumble or blunder.

You probably care deeply about several people. You intend to beneficially influence them for the long term.

How do you deal with fair versus equal? Have you or will you talk with your kids about how and why you intend to allocate your estate among them?

How do you model the challenges of fair versus equal?


Terry Moore, CCIM, is the author of Building Legacy Wealth: How to Build Wealth and Live a Life Worth Imitating. Read his “Welcome to My Blog.

Click here and find out how Terry and his team can help you make the most important financial decision of your next decade.