Leaving your children out of your will is not a decision that is taken lightly. But sometimes there are considerations that you need to make that make it the more prudent decision to leave them out of your will. If you decide to disinherit children, it is something you should do as soon as you make the final decision, which will give them less of a chance to contest it and end up with an inheritance you didn’t want them to receive.
Things You Should Consider Before Choosing to Disinherit
You should never use disinheritance as a tool for controlling your child’s behavior. Trying to control a person or situation with money can often lead to bad feelings and bad blood. While there are valid reasons for wanting to disinherit your child, you might want to look at the other possible options first to see if they could be the right fit before choosing to cut your child out completely. Other options you might want to consider before disinheriting your child include:
Controlling Their Inheritance Through the Use of a Living Trust
If you want to allow your child to have money but control how and when they get it, or what they use it for to ensure it is used responsibly, a living trust may be the better option. You can set up a trust to divvy out the money in small amounts over a period of time or have the funds directly sent to pay bills. You will need to provide the trustee with precise instructions on how, when, or for what the distributions can be made. This may be the ideal option for those who are considering disinheriting for fear of the money being wasted. These trusts can even include milestone incentives such as payments for going to college.
Providing the Power of Appointment to Someone Else
You can also choose to provide a trustee with the power of appointment, which can allow your child to re-inherit if they meet certain terms or conditions. This means that the child will have the right to earn their portion of the estate back as long as the trustee of a lifetime trust is given the instruction to allow this to happen.
How to Write Your Children Out of Your Last Will and Testament
Following a few simple steps can make disinheriting your child a little easier and help provide the best chance for your last wishes to be followed. You will need to:
1. Create a Will
While this sounds simple, many people may communicate their last wishes to family members, but not put the information formally down in writing. Failing to have a will in place means that your estate will pass through intestate succession upon your death. When this occurs, the estate will most likely split up between a living spouse and children. Once you have drafted a will, make sure that it is witnessed and notarized. Then place it in a safe place where the person in charge of executing your estate will have access to it.
2. Indicate the Deliberate Disinheritance of the Specific Child or Children
Just not mentioning the child can leave the will open for interpretation and subject to being contested. The disinherited child could claim you forgot to put them in, and since they were omitted and not explicitly listed as being disinherited, it may give them a chance in the court system. Acknowledge the specific child or children by their name in your will and add a statement saying that for certain reasons, you have decided to make no provision for them or their descendants in your will. This will provide the support that you had intentionally meant to leave them out of the estate split.
There are two things that you will need to consider when wording this in your will. First, leave the reason vague, such as “for reasons known to me.” If you state a reason, you open the door for the child to say that that reason is no longer valid. For example, if you said the disinheritance is because they have finances to meet their needs, they could prove that they no longer have the money to keep themselves financially stable. You also never want to leave a child an amount that basically amounts to leaving them with nothing. Doing this will give your child access to the estate information without having to file a request with the court.
3. Inform Them of Your Decision
It is always best to not make this a surprise that a child learns upon your death. While this can be awkward, it will make the process smoother as they will have more time to get over the initial frustration if there is any and not make any hasty decisions without thinking it through. This is especially important if your other children will be receiving money. It can reduce the chance of the will being contested and bad blood to develop between siblings. The one case where informing your child will not be necessary is if you have been out of contact with them for a significant amount of time. They are likely not to be shocked about not being included in the will at this point.
4. Update Your Will if You Reconsider
Things may change over the years since you have written your will, and the child’s circumstances may have changed as well. If you decide that you want to put them back in your will, be sure that you update the will as soon as you reconsider. If there is no amendment to your will, it is likely the original intention will stand, and your child will not have a claim to any of your estate.
Common Challenges for Contesting a Disinheritance in a Will
When adult children contest a will, they will usually use one of three main challenges. Knowing what these challenges are will better help you to understand how to handle your will to provide the best defense against the challenges. The common challenges include:
A challenge of undue influence may be presented by a disinherited child if they feel that the disinheritance was swayed by another party. This means the contestor felt that the testator was under pressure from someone outside of the natural heirs to cut them out of the will. Undue influence often occurs when a third party threatens force or embarrassment to the testator if they do not comply with their requests. For this type of challenge, there is no need to prove the mental state of the testator when they were writing their will but instead show that they are likely to have made a different decision if they were not under the influence of the other person to sign the will. Though the contestor will likely need to have either medical or psychological records, as well as witness testimony to show the influence on the testator.
Lack of Capacity to Create a Testament
Under this type of challenge, it is alleged that the testator did not have the mental capacity to make the will. Contrary to what many people may think, this challenge is not easy to prove. The court requires substantial evidence to confirm that the testator was not of sound mind when they drafted the will. Time also makes this challenge difficult, because if the will was signed many years before, the court would require medical evidence from the time that the will was signed, that the testator lacked mental capacity. Lack of capacity can be even harder to prove if the will was signed in a lawyer’s office since they are extremely cautious about a testator’s mental state when signing any documents.
If you are drafting your own will, there is a possibility that your disinherited child could challenge it based on improper execution. There will be specific laws to follow depending on the state you file in, but most of the time, you will need to be at least 18, of sound mind, and in the presence of two witnesses who have no financial interest in the will. The witnesses must be in the presence of the testator, and all must witness each other sign the document. You can lessen the likelihood of a challenge of improper execution by speaking with an experienced legal service to ensure that you have followed the protocols required by your state.
Disinheriting a child from your will is not a difficult process, but one where legal advice may help make the process smoother. If you are unsure of the requirements for executing a will in your state, contact a legal service to ensure that you have everything completed and filed properly to ensure your final wishes are fulfilled in the want them to be.