One-third of all parents with wills have divided their estates unequally among their children, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). The study found bequests in complex families – families with stepchildren or estranged children – are more likely to be unequal. The Squared Away Blog reported:
“…parents with stepchildren are considerably less likely to include all of their children than are parents who have only biological offspring. This is more true for women with stepchildren than for men with stepchildren. Divorced and widowed parents are even less likely to divide their assets evenly if they have stepchildren.”
The blog reported there were some mitigating factors. Wealthier parents were more likely to include stepchildren and children with whom they had little or no contact during their lifetimes than less wealthy parents. However, parents who suffered from poor health were less likely to divide their estates equally. Bequests sometimes were used as an incentive to provide long-term care.
Since children may interpret unequal inheritance as an expression of unequal love, why do parents play favorites? Researchers at Ohio State University delved into the question in 2003 and reported altruism (equalizing income differences among children), exchange (bequests in return for services), and/or evolution (bequests to biological children rather than adopted or stepchildren) played a role when distribution of assets was uneven.