Even though I am approaching 18 years since my first day in law school I clearly remember Professor Stone lecturing us about his expectations. He summed up his philosophy of the law with one simple statement. He said never make a case based on what is fair, just, or reasonable as those words lack any true definition. Decisions made on what is “fair” will virtually always be seen as unfair to another person. You must make sure you are making the right decision for the right reason. A reason in which you can state with a clear purpose and meaning. Professor Stone lacked any tolerance for ambiguity. Through my practice and well as in my personal life I have determined in nearly all circumstances he is correct.
How do we apply this to our life or more directly to our estate plan? If you feel something would be unfair determine ask yourself why you feel that way. Is it your situation or asset to control? If it isn’t your situation or asset to control then you’re yelling likely means nothing. You can look to see if a rule or law has been broken for relief from that situation. On the other hand, if the situation is yours to control then pay attention to who thinks it is unfair. Better yet try to restate your reason or decision. For example say: I desire to leave equal amounts to all my children, or I desire to provide more for this child because I believe it is the right thing to do regardless of what others may think. This might not be seen as fair but this child has a disability, or this child received an 8-year education while this person paid for his education with scholarships. Know you have the right to determine where and how your estate will be administered.
We place so much pressure and guilt into situations which do not require it. Make a decision. Don’t worry if it is perfect because it will likely never be perfect. I bet you have heard the young couple who says they are waiting till they have “enough money” before having a child and yet they have been married for 8 years. When it comes to estate planning many people wait to have everything perfectly lined up before making a plan. What parents learn is there is never enough money, the time is never perfect, and the right amount normally has more to do with having the right amount of willpower to stand by your decision. I find more people stress over hurting someone’s feelings than they do over what the overall purpose of the gift is in the first place. So don’t worry if it is fair. Don’t worry if it is perfect. Few things in life are. If you later determine that it was incorrect then change it. You can change direction; you can change what you want to happen with your estate. Take a deep breath and know by following this tip you are being fair to yourself. In the end, that is better because it will allow you to release that weight and become a better parent, friend, or child.
Be good to yourself.
Jason A. Waddell is a Board Certified Florida Elder Law Attorney who practices on the Panhandle of Florida.