As our nation’s presidential candidates seek to differentiate themselves, every subtle distinction in personality, wealth and philosophy between people is amplified.
In this time of people’s differences being repeatedly pointed out, I am reminded of the lyrics to my favorite song, a country music song by Collin Raye, titled, “Not that Different.” The song reminds us of our similarities as human beings in that each of us laugh, love, hope, try, hurt, need, fear and cry.
The song resonates with me, because it reminds me of junior high school, a time when I was incessantly teased for being nerdy and coming from a less affluent family than some of my classmates. I desperately wanted to fit in and simply be “regular.” One evening, a commercial appeared on TV that gave me hope. Metamucil offered all TV viewers, like me, the chance to be “regular.” Only months later did I realize that the regularity offered by Metamucil was less about social standing and more about bathroom habits.
Our legal system is designed to help us all to interact based upon our similarities (and how regular we all are when compared with each other) while respecting our differences.
For instance, jury compositions have been on the front line of the legal system’s attempts to balance our similarities and differences as human beings. Jury selection laws try to recognize that all people share certain similar emotions and feelings, but sometimes there are emotions or feelings that are unmistakably unique based upon our sex or race.
That recognition of people’s similarities and differences is also facilitated through the legal system’s tools for us to use in estate and business planning.
For example, the law allows parents to treat their heirs/beneficiaries (family, charities or other people) as equally or unequally as parents so choose. Some parents seek literal equality among their children. Other parents make exceptions to the general rule of strict equality to provide more money or assets to a child who cares for the parents in the parents’ golden years. Other parents may give a family business worth a lot of money to one or more children while giving less valuable (dollar-wise) assets to other children. Sometimes, a child’s propensity for financial responsibility is a huge factor in how equally the child is treated as to other siblings. And, other times, a child’s special health or family needs adjust the amount he or she will inherit.
Of course, blended families can really challenge parents’ senses of “fairness” in estate planning. Should step-kids be treated the same as biological offspring? Should estranged adult children (sometimes as a result of difficult divorces earlier in life) be treated the same or different from other adult children who are still involved in a parent’s life?
There is no perfect answer to the challenges of balancing similarities and differences in people in estate planning, but the law allows us to adjust to our own senses of fairness and our personal preferences in order to treat people the same or different in our own estate planning.
Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at Lee@LeeSchroeder.com or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.