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The difficult decision to disinherit a child

There is no predicting how family relationships will turn out as children grow into adults and find their own ways. You may be living proof of this if your adult children are living lives that are very different from what you had hoped and planned for them. Perhaps you even have one child whose life choices are so far removed from yours that you have made an intentional decision to disinherit the child from your estate.

What you plan to do with your estate after your passing is largely your choice. Some states, such as Texas, have laws that protect spouses and minor children from disinheritance, but otherwise, it is your right to distribute your assets as you see fit. However, if it is your decision to disinherit a child, you should know that such actions can easily lead to protracted and expensive probate litigation unless you prepare your estate carefully.

Make your wishes clear

Estate advisors seldom recommend threatening to disinherit a child to force the child to change his or her behavior. Since there are other less risky methods of achieving this, it is wise to choose the path of disinheritance only if your goal is to cut your child out of the estate. If you plan to disinherit your child, remember the following:

  • Draft your estate plan so that your family will clearly understand your omission of the child was intentional and not an accidental oversight, which may lead to a will contest.
  • Specifically state at the beginning of your will that you have disinherited the child by name.
  • Include documentation of your decision to exclude the child, such as copies of journal entries or a list of people with whom you discussed your plans.
  • Be certain that your reasons for the disinheritance are not obsolete, such as marriage to someone the child has since divorced or spending habits that are now under control.
  • Avoid using your will to go into too much detail about your grievance against your child since any of the details you list may be fodder for a legal dispute.

You may also wish to explore with your attorney alternatives to complete disinheritance that may minimize the opportunity for a dispute. For example, leaving a token bequest and including a no-contest clause may discourage your child from seeking a larger inheritance. For a child whom you regret having to disinherit, such as one who has an addiction, you may consider creating a trust to manage the funds in the inheritance.

Since your situation is unique, it stands that you deserve personalized attention to your wishes for your estate. Speaking with a Texas attorney can offer you the individual consideration to help you reach your goals.