Disinheriting a Relative can be Complicated

Don't let a "black sheep" disturb the rest of the flock

Have a “black sheep” in your family that you would like to disinherit?  Perhaps you feel that you have given one child more during your life, so he or she should get less in your will. Or you may want to cut out an heir altogether. Whatever the reason, disinheriting a close relative, especially a spouse or a child, can be complicated.

It may not be possible to completely disinherit a spouse. Even if you don’t leave your spouse anything in your will, most states have laws that keep a spouse from losing everything.  If you live in a “community property” state, your spouse already owns half of the community property. Other states have laws that automatically entitle a spouse to portion of your estate.

Even if you don’t completely disinherit your spouse, he or she can choose between taking what your will provides or taking what the law in your state says a spouse should receive in any case (the “statutory share,” usually one-third to one-half of your estate). The only solution is to enter into an agreement with your spouse in which you each waive the right to receive anything from the other’s estate.

Disinheriting a child is a different story.  While North Carolina does not require that you leave anything to your adult children, you must meet certain criteria to do so effectively. To be safe, even if you are leaving a child nothing, you should specifically mention the child in the will. It may also help to state the reason the child is getting nothing or a reduced amount. If you don’t mention a child at all, the state may conclude that you did not intentionally exclude the child. There are often laws that protect children born after a will was written.

Disinheriting a close relative can cause fights among family members. Squabbles over wills can drag on for years and prevent your heirs from receiving their inheritance, so if you are planning on disinheriting someone, it is important to take as many precautions as possible and consult with an elder law or estate planning attorney. Click here for more information on how to prevent a will contest.

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