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Dividing the Pie
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Every year the company for which I work has its employees choose their benefits for the following year. This includes choosing beneficiaries. Picking my primary beneficiary is simple. My spouse gets everything.

I also have to choose secondary beneficiaries – someone to get the money if my spouse cannot. That covers the eventuality that my wife and I die simultaneously. That is also straightforward. I divide the money among my three sons.

How I divide it changes every year. A few years back, my oldest son was the principal secondary beneficiary. For the last few years, he got the smallest percentage, and my two youngest split the majority of the money. This year, my youngest son gets the largest share.The division does not reflect changing affection for my sons. I would be hard put to pick a favorite. They are all different, but I love all of them. The division is based on need.

The oldest got the largest share when he was the only one in college. He knew he was expected to look after the younger two if the three were orphaned. He was willing to accept that responsibility. Once he graduated, and started his career, he no longer needed money. He could thrive unassisted. But his two younger brothers were in college and needed resources to finish their education.

Largest Slice

My middle son got his engineering degree last December. He has little debt, and no longer needs support. This year my youngest is a college sophomore. Giving him the largest slice assures that he can finish his education.

Every parent with more than one child faces this in one form or another. Your children have different needs and your resources are limited. Dividing those resources evenly may sound fair, but reality is different. The truly fair division of resources may mean that different children get different amounts.

One child may need braces while another does not. Money spent on braces necessarily reduces the money available for other children. One child may get a college scholarship; the second does not, but is also going to college, while a third chooses to join the military out of high school. The way you allocate money for their education will differ. Unless you have limitless resources each child gets a different amount of your financial pie. Doing this does not mean you love the child that gets more of your resources more than the children that get fewer resources. Love is independent of money. It should be. Meeting your children’s needs is also not just a matter of providing money, either. Sometimes it means you spend more time with one child than another.

Finally, make sure that your distribution of time and money is really based on need, not desire. Playing favorites is an easy trap for a parent to fall into. Be honest with yourself and with your children, and do what needs to be done, and they will accept your decisions.  Mine did – and supported them.

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By Mark N. Lardas. Copyright © 2011 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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