Importance of a Will When Disinheriting Children

Relationships between parents and their adult children can be complicated, especially when a relationship has soured due to parental alienation or a divorce. In the United States, a parent can take steps to legally disinherit their child, unless they live in Louisiana (where special rules apply), assuming the parent drafts a valid will and leaves their property to someone other than their son or daughter.

Understanding Intestate Succession

In the U.S., if someone dies without a will, it is called “dying intestate.” In the case of an intestate estate, any property that was not disposed of automatically through beneficiary designations would pass under the state’s intestate succession laws.

Each state has enacted its own intestate succession laws, but generally the decedent’s property passes to their spouse and children. If there is no spouse or children, it passes to the closest living relatives, which usually include the decedent’s living parents and then siblings.

Usually, the surviving spouse and children are given first priority over any other heirs. For example, suppose a father died, leaving behind a wife and three children. This father happened to live in Utah; under Utah’s intestate succession laws, his wife would inherit everything. On the other hand, if the father was divorced, then his children would inherit everything. So, without a will, it would not be possible to disinherit a child.

Disinheriting a Child in a Will

When a parent wants to disinherit a child, they should make this intention very clear in their will. To accomplish this, the parent can make a simple statement, such as, “I am intentionally leaving no provisions for my child, Jane Doe in this will.”

Should a parent state their reasons for disinheriting a child? It depends on the particular circumstances and how the parent feels about it. Some parents leave a child out of a will because they have already given them sufficient funds through their lifetime. Or, a child can be disinherited because they are estranged from the parent, or because the child is independently wealthy and does not need the money.

Sometimes, it’s better to leave the reasons for the disinheritance out of the will. If the parent gives a reason, the omitted child may decide to contest the will in probate court. Often, parents are advised to refrain from leaving an explanation for the disinheritance, which speaks for itself. Also, leaving last remarks in the will can unnecessarily hurt the child’s feelings and there’s no sense in that.

If you wish to disinherit your child, you will need to draft a will. Otherwise, there is no way to disinherit a child if you die intestate. To learn more, contact an estate planning attorney for professional guidance.