There is an old saying that you can't choose your family. In the context of estate planning, however, you can choose the family to whom you leave your assets. For some people, this might include choosing to leave someone out of a will so that he or she does not benefit from any gift or inheritance.
If you wish to disinherit someone, know that it is not an insignificant decision. And if you don't take certain planning steps, you could leave loved ones feeling hurt, angry and having to fight costly, bitter legal battles.
There are three things you can do to make disinheritance less contentious.
- Talk to someone about your decision. When disinheritance is a surprise, it is typically not a good surprise. To avoid confusion and doubt over your decision, talk to someone about the disinheritance and explain the reasons behind it so that it is not misconstrued. This could be the party you disinherit or the person who will be the executor of the estate.
- Use clear, direct language in your will. Don't leave anything open to interpretation. For example, Richard Harrison, the late star of the "Pawn Stars" TV show, disinherited one of his sons in his will. Reports state that in his will, Harrison said that although he loved his son Christopher, he had "intentionally and with full knowledge failed to provide for him and his issue." This shows the decision was intentional and suggests it was not a decision made out of hatred.
- Ensure you have one valid, updated will. If you have multiple versions of a will or a very old will and your wishes for disinheritance are inconsistent or outdated, then there could be grounds for a party to challenge your will.
Even if there is no love lost between you and the person you disinherit, keep in mind that your other family members can be affected by disinheritance as well. If it is a messy, hurtful situation, then the disinherited party might challenge the will, making the probate process far more difficult and painful for everyone.
As such, think carefully before disinheriting someone. And if you choose to do so, keep in mind the tips in this post and consider discussing your plans with an attorney.