Does a parent have a moral obligation to include an adult child in a will? If so, what factors are important to whether a parent has a moral obligation to leave some part of an estate to his or her adult child?
Circumstances where a moral obligation may exist
In Landy v. Landy Estate, (1991) 60 B.C.L.R (2d) 282 (C.A.), the court said yes – a parent may have a moral obligation to include an adult child in his or her will.
Some examples of circumstances which bring forth a moral obligation on the part of parent to leave an inheritance to an adult children are: a disability on the part of an adult child; an assured expectation on the part of an adult child; or an implied expectation on the part of an adult child, arising from the size of the parent’s estate or from the adult child’s treatment during the parent’s lifetime.
The situation in Landy
William and Emily Landy had one child, Larry, who was born in 1933. Emily died in 1967. William married his second wife, Amy, in 1972, when William was 73 and Amy was 62. Amy had her own assets from her first marriage. William and Amy kept their assets and financial affairs separate.
William died in 1988 leaving an estate valued at approximately $160,000. By the terms of William’s will, prepared in 1978, Larry received only $10,000. The rest of the estate went to Amy.
Amy, who had been very ill for many years, died one year after William, leaving her own estate of approximately $81,000 (not including what William left to her). By the terms of Amy’s will, her estate went to her biological children from her first marriage. Larry was not a beneficiary of Amy’s will.
Court decides moral obligation supports a larger share of estate for adult child
Larry brought action seeking a larger share of his father’s estate. The task for the court was to decide whether William made adequate provision for the proper maintenance and support of his adult child by leaving him a bequest of $10,000 out of an estate of approximately $160,000.
The court decided that the William had a moral obligation to make greater provision for Larry than he did, and increased the bequest to $60,000.
Factors important to the parent’s moral obligation to his adult child in Landy
In Landy, the following factors were important to the determination that the parent had a moral obligation to leave a larger share of his estate to his adult son:
- Larry had an expectation that he would inherit a portion of his father’s estate. On a number of occasions Larry asked if his father’s affairs were in order and William would reply: “Don’t worry, you will be taken care of.”
- Larry had worked many hours without pay in helping to construct the building used to operate his father’s business. It was the sale of that property and business in the 1960s which enabled William to build his estate.
- Most of William’s estate was accumulated before he married his second wife, Amy.
- Larry was a dutiful son. There was evidence that he provided a lot of assistance to his father, with respect to his father’s business and to his father personally. On many occasions, Larry was summoned by his father to deal with minor family crises at all hours of the day and night. Larry willingly performed these family duties to the end.
- At the time of William’s death Amy had her own estate of considerable size. William was aware of her income and expenses over the 16 years of their marriage and of the increase in the size of her estate through her savings.
- At the time of William’s death it was reasonably foreseeable that Amy’s life expectancy was limited. She was elderly and had been ill for many years. The combined effect of William’s will and of Amy’s will is that Amy’s five biological children would receive by far the major share of William’s estate, even though her five children had no moral entitlement to a share in William’s estate.
Take home point on the moral obligation of a parent to an adult child
A parent may have a moral obligation to leave an inheritance to an adult child. Whether an adult child has a moral claim to a share of a parent’s estate will depend on factors such as the quality of the relationship between the parent and child, expectations of the child based on assurances from the parent, the size of the estate, and any assistance by the child in building the estate.