Not long ago, I was contacted by a couple who did planning with us a while back. They asked for an appointment to make some changes to their estate plan. However, their demeanor when they came in was different than the last time we met. When I inquired about the changes they wanted to make, they uncomfortably said, “We want to disinherit our son from our estate.”
While families are intrinsically connected, many people decide that their blood relatives are not a positive force in their life and choose to prevent that person from inheriting money from their estate. Whether it is an adult child, a former spouse, parent, or extended relative, just saying aloud that they have been taken out of your will does not mean the courts will honor that decision.
First and foremost, disinheriting someone from your will requires you to meet with your estate planning attorney. You cannot just cross out the name on your documents. By working with your attorney, amendments will be added to your estate plan specifically to ensure the person you want to disinherit will not be able to challenge your will in court. Omitting the name is not even enough; frequently, courts see the omission as a mistake unless expressly noted.
After adding the language to your will and trust documents, you must then go through all your financial accounts and make sure that person is not still listed as your beneficiary. All too often, clients have their ex-partner disinherited as the beneficiary on accounts, for example. Because beneficiary designations are handled outside of the will and trust, this is a separate process that must be handled to remove the person that you no longer wish to inherit from you.
Of course, disinheriting someone is likely to cause a commotion. It is your choice on how to communicate your decision. One option is discussing this with the person before you pass, which allows your decision to be delivered directly while also opening you up to their attempts to change your mind. You can also decide for them to find out upon your passing. If you go this route, the language used in the documents must thoroughly explain your decision. While the disinherited individual might try to challenge it in court, the courts will not likely hear the case if you have your estate created correctly.
One other step that can help your wishes be communicated more clearly is to meet with your chosen executor or trustee and explain the reason for your new omission. By your executor or trustee having previous knowledge, they can help communicate your wishes to the disinherited person to help minimize conflict when you are gone.
Disinheriting a loved one is tricky. It can bring up a lot of emotions and legally needs to be handled in a very specific way in order to be honored by the courts. If you are considering going this route, please reach out to us before you amend your documents or make any further decisions. We will walk you through the pros and cons of each option so that you can make the safest and most secure choice for your protection and peace of mind. To schedule an appointment, contact me at 916.247.6868.