Morally, how should inheritance be split between siblings if originally unequally distributed?

I’ll try to just give the basic facts and leave personalities and irrelevant family history out of the equation. Parents have 3 grown children, all siblings: A,B, C. For whatever reason, 10 years ago:

Sibling A is favored and receives 95% of the parents assets, which is a house about to be re-developed into a mall (HOUSE X). BUT, the still-living parent/s don’t want to move into a nursing home, and the gift is informally contingent on A taking care of the parent/s.

Sibling B gets 5% for a down payment to buy their own place.

Sibling C gets nothing from their parents, BUT separately inherits 3 times what their parents had from their in-laws in around the same time. Sibling C keeps this all to themselves (no sharing with siblings A or B).

So, sibling A takes their 95% and uses it to buy a different house (HOUSE Y)and has the parents move in. the 95% is essentially invested and there’s nothing left over. All three live together for the next 10 years, then parents both die. Sibling A gets married, and wants to sell the HOUSE Y and move on with their new family.

At this point Sibling C’s much larger inheritance is long since spent on themselves. Sibling B continues to live on their house bought in part with their 5%. Sibling A legally has no obligation to share anything with B or C.


-Should A share any of the 95% they originally received 10 years earlier with B or C, given that is was the (now deceased) parent’s choice how to distribute?
-If so, how much of the value and at what point? The new value of HOUSE Y upon sale, or the old value of HOUSE X from 10 years ago?
-Should the original 95% have been split in the first place and the parents sent to a home?
-Does Sibling C’s non-sharing of their separate inheritance in the past influence what should be done in the present?
-If anything should be split today, to what degree does it matter how wisely A used the original 95%. Say A pissed it away and only has $30 left 10 years later… or say A brilliantly invested and now has 10X the amount.

No moral duty to do anything differently now than the parents did then. If Kid A didn’t feel any obligation to even things out then, why should they now?

Parents get to treat kids differently. Kids get to react how they wish. Kid C’s inheritance from in-laws should (IMO) have nothing to do with the estate of ABC’s parents.

As far as I’m concerned, the only “moral” thing now is that if one of the sibs is in tremendously better financial situation than the other - for whatever reason - they should consider being generous in their interactions with the others. Picking up more than their share of the tab, not expecting others to be able to afford what they can.

If any of the sibs hold any ill-will, it should be directed at the parents, not the sibs. That is, unless sib A schemed to con the rents into favoring him/her.

Morally, there was no inheritance. The parents gave a gift to B for their house while they were alive. That’s cool, their money. They then paid A to take care of them for the rest of their lives. A did so. Parents then died with nothing.

A got some money, but I’m sure put a lot of work into caring for mom and dad. She doesn’t owe anyone anything.

B got a gift for a house, which I imagine was returned with love and affection.

C got nothing, which I imagine the parents had a damn good reason for (and which I am curious what that reason is).

Side note: C’s inheritance from the in-laws doesn’t affect anything, just like if C won the lotto C wouldn’t owe A or B anything, and morally should not allow the ‘winnings’ to offset anything C is owed.

Nobody owes anybody anything. The parents were smart to make sure their fortunes was distributed while they were alive so nobody can second guess their desires after they aren’t around to argue.

Are you one of A, B, or C?

There is no “morally” to inheritance anyway. Sorry. Those two words do not go together. Nor is there any way anyone but God could divide things so that each heir gets exactly what they need and/or deserve.

I have been a part of several inheritance events. The inferno of resentment of those who did not get what they felt ought to be coming to them blew apart my family.

It was as though there was a belief that all decades of the injustices of family life would be somehow put to rights, by money. Well guess what.

Assuming there is some dissent or dissatisfaction somewhere, and assuming everything about the situation was on the up and up:

Siblings A, B, and C all need to remember that life is not “fair.”

Siblings B and C deserve more of their parents assets as soon as they go back in time and agree to help take care of their aging parents, and then actually do it, and their parents agree to a different allocation of assets, because in the end, the parents get to decide what to do with their money. (Even that kind of strikes me as an unsatisfactory answer, because you should help take care of your parents because they are your parents, not as a quid pro quo for future inheritance. But it seems that’s how the parents played it, so…)

Siblings A and B need to remember that whatever siblings C’s spouse inherited from his/her parents is irrelevant to their situation. Even if the in-laws left something directly to C, that is none of their business.

So the answers to your five questions at the end are:

  1. No.
  2. Not applicable.
  3. Not if that is not what the parents wanted, absolutely not.
  4. Nope.
  5. Nothing needs to be split today, so not applicable.

And the answer to your headline question, “Morally, how should inheritance be split between siblings if originally unequally distributed?” the answer is “Unequally.”

Now, if one sibling feels an injustice was done in their favor, they might decide to rectify it by giving gifts to their siblings. But the other siblings can’t demand or expect it.

At some point, whoever is unhappy needs to suck it up and live with their parents’ decisions.

Apart from the God bit this nicely sums up my perspective. Inheritance is a gift from one person to another. The giver gets to make whatever call they want. They could ignore their kids and give it to a stranger if they want, as far as I’m concerned. There is no morality attached to who gets an unearned windfall, and no one is entitled to it.

If parents ABC knew that C was getting a big, fat inheritance and thus would “need” less money than A or B, then I hope they made that clear. If C just pissed off the parents, well, that’s the breaks. (Which is to say, irrelevant family history becomes relevant.)

A gets most of the money, but A also had the burden of taking care of the parents for 10 years. Shall we count how many times B or C took the parents so A could take a vacation? Should A give back most of the inheritance, but then turn around and bill B and C for all the caregiving? (That’s another piece of irrelevant family history that becomes relevant.)

B should be happy with getting the down payment for a house.

And the parents didn’t have an obligation to leave anything to any of them.

I just have to respond to this one…

Oh, yeah. In fact, the kids should have euthanized the parents earlier and spent the money anyway they pleased. After all, it’s not as if the parents earned that money.

I disagree. Suppose my parents decide to leave their entire estate to me because my sibling married somebody from a different race. They then die in a plane crash.

I feel their decision was immoral. My sibling feels their decision was immoral. Our parents are dead. So why shouldn’t we seek to rectify the immorality of their decision? I agree to give my sibling half the estate and we both agree this is a more moral division than the one our parents made.

That’s a decision between you and your sibling. I read the OP as asking if there’s some formula that the parents should have followed.

Like that.

Your parents in this hypothetical are jerks, but what do you even mean by “immoral” in this case? We’re talking about who to give an unearned windfall to. And the parameters of the debate only include the kids of parents wealthy enough to leave a non-negligible inheritance, so we’re talking about a group that already correlates with having a reasonably well provided for upbringing. If we’re trying to stick “morality” onto this arbitrarily decided windfall why not include some potential strangers in a faraway impoverished land who could use the cash as seed money for a business?

Inheritance is an unearned windfall. You may as well ask who should “morally” win the lottery. I get that parents have a motivation to help out their kids, and I’m not advocating for doing away with inheritance or 100% estate taxes. But I don’t think anyone is entitled to an inheritance. You should expect nothing, and are entitled to nothing, and be pleasantly surprised if you “win” an inheritance / lottery. You’re luckier than most.

That’s not to say that it’s unreasonable to choose to share your windfall with your sibling to undo a horribly racist decision, and it seems decent to value your relationship enough to make that financial sacrifice. But neither of you have a “moral” claim to the money.

Sorry - didn’t read closely enough. Curious to hear how the OP fits into this family, and who - if anyone - is suggesting anyone owes anyone anything.

I was executor of my mother’s estate. A few of the provisions were unexpected but not bizarre. People ended up with money they didn’t earn, so NBD.

I am guessing you are sibling B.

  1. Should A share any of the 95% they originally received… NO

  2. Should the original 95% have been split in the first place… MAYBE (but that was your parents choice to make and I would not second-guess them).

  3. Does Sibling C’s non-sharing of their separate inheritance… NO - why would they share it??

  4. If anything should be split today… NO - nothing should be re-distributed.

Just repeating that Sibling C’s getting a different inheritance and spending it is not a reason for getting more now. If anything, it indicates that getting more now is a waste.

The parents never should have given A the house before they died in the first place - that’s a hell of a tax event when they sell it, compared to if they had inherited it then sold it.

Morally, A should give whatever amount she wants to her siblings, including possibly $0. It was her parents’ money, and they chose what to do with it. They chose to give it to A. Now it’s A’s money, and she chooses what to do with it. If A thinks that the deal was unfair and the other siblings deserved to get more, she has the power to do something about that. If she thinks it was fair already, she also has the power to not do something about it.

Morally, and all other things being equal, the parents should have not bestowed unequal gifts upon their children and in so doing creating animosity between siblings.

If there exist reasons to bestow unequal gifts then the parents should explain exactly why they are doing so.

The OP didn’t go into huge amounts of detail as to why the inheritance allotment was so unequal, so we can’t judge because the devil is in the details.

The parents were perfectly and morally entitled to unequally distribute their wealth as they saw fit. PERIOD. They DID explain why, it’s right in the OP. One got the down payment for a house, one got a house and an obligation to care for them (from 10yrs-whenever!), and the last will inherit large from another source.

No one has any obligation to share any portion, of any inheritances, with the others. Not even a little bit. Ever. Under any circumstances. The wealth from their inheritances became their money, to do with as they please. Even if they just want to spent it on hookers and blow - it’s theirs to do with as they please, from when they received it, till forever into the future.

Any recipient who feels differently needs to take their complaint up directly with the persons who wrote the will, because they alone are responsible for the distribution. NOT the recipients!

What happened was fine however I play it over in my brain and I see no need to change things for a more equitable (to us) split. The parents decided what happened to their stuff and no one tried to change any of that over 10 years. So my call would be to stand pat and move on.