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Why do parents distribute assets unequally between siblings?

Writing a will is one of the most important parts of estate planning, allowing the individual to confirm how they want their assets to be distributed once they pass away.

Children often receive an inheritance from their parents, and research from the University of Queensland (UQ) and other academic institutions showed that 93 per cent of mums and dads opt for an equal distribution of assets to their offspring.

But what about the other 7 per cent? Why do some parents choose an uneven split, particularly when this could lead to inheritance disputes?

1. Estrangement

Unfortunately, parents and their children don’t always have strong relationships and some people decide to leave a son or daughter out of their will when resentment bubbles over.

While a strained relationship is a factor in whether a family provision claim is successful, the courts will examine how the estrangement occurred and what efforts were made to reconcile between the parties as part of a ruling.

2. Step and blended families

The UQ’s ‘Having the Last Word?’ report revealed that between 5 and 6 per cent of families in Australia contain stepchildren. Most will-makers interviewed for the study admitted they either excluded stepchildren from a will entirely or gave them a smaller share of the estate than their own children.

Stepparents weighed various issues when allocating assets to stepchildren, including the duration of the relationship with the biological parent, the age of the children involved and how active an authority figure the stepparent was.

3. Disabled children

Parents may also choose to leave a larger share of their estate to children that have greater financial and maintenance needs, as is often the case when a son or daughter is disabled or has mental health problems.

Two-thirds of will-makers distribute their assets unequally if they have a disabled child, according to the UQ research.

4. Cultural or religious factors

The primogeniture model of inheritance, whereby the first-born child receives the entirety of an estate is dying out in Australia, but it still exists in agricultural circles. A recent Chapman Eastway study found 3 per cent of farmers still leave agricultural assets to their eldest child.

The will maker’s religion could also have an impact on asset distribution. The UQ study found Muslim families might follow Islamic traditions, meaning sons receive double the inheritance of daughters.

If you feel a loved one did not leave adequate provisions for your future education, maintenance and financial needs, please contact Gerard Malouf & Partners Will Dispute Lawyers to discuss your case.

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Contesting Wills
 — Gerard Malouf & Partners

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