Disinheriting a Child and Other Considerations of a Last Will and Testament

Disinheriting a Child and Other Considerations of a Last Will and Testament

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:

Undue Influence

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. 

Improper Execution

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. 

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Celebrate Your Military Family, Improve Your Military Will

Celebrate Your Military Family By Improving Your Military Will

There’s an old military adage that says, “No good plan survives engagement.” 

While this quote’s timelessness must lend credit to its applicability in battle, it transcends its martial roots and applies equally as well to law.  Especially Estate Law. 

Take for instance the idea of a Last Will and Testament.  A Will is probably the most well known and well-understood items in an estate plan.  The purpose of the Will is to make sure your assets go where you want them to go after you pass away.  It need not be too complicated, and in many cases, Wills have been as simple as notes scratched on a piece of paper from the deathbed of the person writing the Will.  <- We do not advise this, but if it is a bad idea and it works, is it indeed a bad idea?  

Today, and this month, we are celebrating the Month of the Military Kid.  As a law firm, this got us thinking, what can we do to celebrate?

 Share updates and resources, check.  Spread the good word, check.  Educate…  we can do that!  That is what this blog is all about.  Getting good information, usable information, from our brains and into a forum (this forum!) where readers can make informed decisions.  In that spirit, the purpose of this article is to answer for Veterans and those still serving, why their Military Will is not enough protection for their family, and show them how to fix this.  

Your Military Will Just Is Not Enough

It’s not your fault, and it is not a bad start.  But the hard fact is, your military Will is not enough protection for your family.  Here’s why.

As we mentioned above, a Will of any type is designed to designate who will get your assets when you pass.  The process begins with your death and then must go through a legal action known as probate.  Probate is the bane of estate planners for several reasons.  The top of these reasons being time, cost, messiness.

Probate is an Unnecessary Pain

Death is a hurry up and wait process when probate is factored in.  You are scrambling around trying to figure out last arrangements (if you haven’t set up an estate plan ahead of time), trying to figure out the finances of paying for burial or cremation, ceremonies, and getting family and friends together.  Then, you have all the assets of the deceased to figure out what to do with.

Houses, cars – are they owned?  Who has the right to sell them? Trinkets, storage items, family heirlooms, tv’s, jewelry, books, intellectual property, investments…the list is endless.  And it is going to take 6-9 months to figure out who has the right to even make decisions on these assets.  That is 6-9 months to work through probate, assuming the issue of ownership is uncontested!

Let’s set aside the time suck that is probate on Willed assets and work our way through costs.  Get ready to pay up to 10% of the assets of the estate just to transfer them to where they are supposed to go!

If you are keeping track that’s thousands of dollars and 6-9 months so far.  Again, IF the declarations in the Will are uncontestable.  Do you have an ex-wife that owns half your house but your adult kids and your current fiance’ are the ones named to inherit your assets in your military Will?  How’s that going to be settled?  Who is going to help you (or really them) to figure it out?  And how much is it going to cost?

Wills In the Military

Being honest, we are pointing out the drawbacks of Wills because there is another way for young families to prepare for the future. An approach that can release them & you from the turmoil of probate, the financial burden of an unnecessary legal process, and avoid the messiness of contested assets altogether.   So why does the military get service members set up with Wills in the first place?

For one, Wills are relatively straightforward and easy to set up en masse.  Did your command order you and 100 other people to set up your military Will through JAG?  Was it a pre-deployment Will or something set up for family day?  If so, it may be very limited in scope and entirely out of date if any one of a hundred or more things have happened since it was penned.

New kids, new property, new assets, new marriage situations, and more are all reasons to update a Will.  And in reality, updating a Will is not as simple as crossing off an outdated item and adding a new issue.  You are likely going to have to re-write the whole thing.

So, while military Wills get the job done, temporarily.  They do not grow with you and your needs, and if it has been a year or more since you established yours, you need another option.

Another Option – Let’s Talk Total Estate Planning

Wills are a means to an end and can be effective if you use them in the right way.  However they do come with drawbacks, and for a young military family, there are strong reasons to consider other paths for estate planning.  Especially, trusts, powers of attorney, and other options.

Recall from this discussion some of the drawbacks of Wills, and particularly military Wills.  

  • To transfer assets upon death requires probate, which can take 6-9 months;
  • Probate can cost up to 10% of the assets of the deceased;
  • Disputes over the Will can lead to painful situations which are only solved in probate court; and,
  • Wills only cover items and beneficiaries specifically.  Any change to your situation and family might change the whole dynamic of the military Will.  

A trust on the other hand

  • Can transfer assets almost immediately upon death, or even before passing if it is set up to do so. 
  • Will not require anyone to pay lawyers or a probate court.  Once the trust is set up the only cost is modifying it, if necessary.
  • Trustees (recipients of the trust) are decided between you and your estate lawyer when drafting and updating the trust.  It is very clear who your trustee(s) will be and under what conditions they assume control of the trust that your assets have been placed in. 
  • You can set up your trust to be disbursed to certain people in certain circumstances.  If you want your brother to receive part of your assets upon passing but not his spouse, you can make that a condition at any point.  
  • Lastly, a trust is private.  The process of going through probate opens up the details of your assets to the public eye.  Your beneficiaries could have unscrupulous suitors showing up at their door if you have a sizable estate to pass on.  A trust being disbursed to the trustee(s) in the manner you wanted is not handled in the public eye.  

Should You Scrap Your Military Will? 

You already know there are no absolutes in life.  And as we have discussed in this article, this sentiment is true in death too!

Should you scrap your military Will wholesale?  Maybe not.

At the very least, it is a fantastic jumping off point to discuss what else you should be considering or should have already considered.

The good news is that while you are still alive, it is not too late!

We Help Military Families Get Their Estate Plans In Order

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