While it may be true that parents love all their children equally, it is also true that as children grow into adults, it may be harder for parents to get along with them. In some cases, the physical and emotional distance between parents and children can play an important part in the decisions the parent makes during the estate planning process, specifically the decision to disinherit a child.
Florida law makes it difficult to disinherit a spouse, and minor children also have the protection of the law against disinheritance. However, you have the right to withhold an inheritance from an adult child if you so choose. It is wise to know the risks and ramifications of taking this step.
Making your plan clear
For many parents, the estrangement of a child, a child’s irresponsible or abusive behavior, or a child’s drug or alcohol addiction may prompt them to disinherit the child. In other cases, a child may simply not need the estate’s assets as much as their siblings, or a parent may have already given the adult child financial support during life. Like many, you may think the best way to deal with the disinheritance is to leave the child’s name off the estate planning documents.
While it may be less painful for you to simply omit the child’s name from your will, legal advisors do not recommend this strategy. Your disinherited child may be able to convince the probate court that you unintentionally left his or her name out or that the person drafting your will made a mistake. Instead, you should clearly and concisely indicate your intention to disinherit the child. Additionally, legal advisors recommend the following dos and don’ts:
- Do not use your will to explain your reasons for the disinheritance since this may leave your estate vulnerable to a defamation lawsuit.
- Do inform your attorney of the reasons why your child is left out since the attorney will be responsible for defending your will.
- Do ensure your will defines any terms that may exclude your child from the inheritance, such as “descendants” or “issue.”
- Do not leave a token inheritance to the child unless you intend for him or her to have a say during the probate process.
Since the decision and process for disinheriting a child can be complex, you may want to consider other ways to leave bequests, such as trusts or beneficiary designations that do not go through probate. These options are often more difficult for a disinherited child to protest.