How Disinheritance Works

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| 2 min. read |

If you find yourself in a complicated, splintered or downright poisonous relationship with a close family member and have said “enough”, you may want to disinherit them from your estate. Here's how to do it and make it stick. 

“I keep having this nightmare that we don't spend the money in time and the kids inherit it all.” – Johnathan West, Cartoonist

You've put together your Last Will and Testament and for years have felt pretty good about it. Then one day, something changes, and you need to alter that will, taking someone who once was set to inherit out. The reasons to do this are many and varied, and believe it or not, not all nefarious. 

Sure, sometimes a bad apple needs to be chucked out, but there are other reasons disinheritance happens, such as a change in marital status, medical needs, an heir's lack or increase in need, or deciding to give someone their portion of the estate before you go. 

There's a right way and a wrong way to disinherit. The wrong way is to simply delete the disinherited person from your will. This may or may not work depending on your relationship with the disinherited. 

In many states, children and spouses are the presumed heirs to an estate and just leaving one of them out sets up your other heirs for possible legal battles. The better way is to specifically say, “I do not want (insert name here) to inherit anything from my estate”. It is a decisive statement that is most likely going to be upheld in any court if it comes to that. Just do not, under any circumstances, state a reason you want to disinherit. Being specific muddies that waters and can make for legal loopholes that overrule your wishes. Just mention that you are doing this for personal reasons of your own and you should be covered.

The reasoning behind disinheriting a child can range from problems with addiction, a track record of financial irresponsibility, showing your disapproval of them or their lifestyle, or something altogether more personal. 

In the case of a spouse, it is usually not possible to disinherit them unless there is a pre or post-nuptial agreement.

If the relationship has gone way past the point of no return, then go for it, disinherit away. But before making a dramatic statement just consider that people can and do change and that your reasons for cutting them out may not be relevant after you are gone and may well fuel feelings of hurt and resentment that spill over into their relationships with other siblings or loved ones. 

If the disinherited person is a distant relative or a friend, then just making the change to the document should do the trick and not cause any ruckus. Any person farther away in lineage than a child or spouse is not automatically presumed to be an heir and therefore can be eliminated with the stroke of a key if you decide.

Then for the Rest

Other reasons to disinherit are generally more amicable and usually don't come as a surprise to anyone. 

In the case of remarriage and a second family, for example, it must be made clear in your will if you want children from both marriages to have equal shares, otherwise, the kids from the first marriage could be shut out. This would be a case of unintentional disinheritance and one that is easily rectified by a little planning. 

Unforeseen medical issues are another reason to disinherit some for the benefit of another. If one heir becomes incapacitated or faces chronic illness and needs a lot of care, money may be diverted from other heirs to help in paying for medical costs.

Sometimes parents give unequally, or disinherit, one child whose fortune in life has been enormous. If your son is Bill Gates-rich, you certainly wouldn't think twice about diverting his share of the pie to others in your life who would need it more. 

Finally, you may have given one heir's share of inheritance whilst you were still alive, therefore making disinheritance necessary for the sake of fairness. Perhaps you put a down payment on a house for your daughter, the amount of which corresponded with her future inheritance. Stating in your will that she received her portion already through the gift you made to her (the down payment) will cover your bases with your other heirs and ensure no one feels they got gypped in the end. 



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