Q: Can I disinherit my child?
A: Parents often joke about disinheriting their children, but this is a question we get more frequently than you would think (and not because COVID quarantining in close quarters with their children has driven the parent to it). Disinheriting a child arises in cases where a parent and child have become estranged – sometimes because of a specific event, sometimes not. In more fortunate circumstances, sometimes the parent and child are on good terms, but the child has sufficient wealth that the parent wants to leave their assets to their other children.
Regardless of the circumstances, the answer is yes, a parent can disinherit their child. Put another way, the law does not require a parent to leave their assets to their children at their death. The only person the law protects in this regard is your spouse. If you disinherit your spouse, your spouse has the right to claim a certain share of the assets in your estate or in your revocable trust if they wish to do so. But if you have no spouse and you wish to leave all of your assets to the New England Wild Flower Society rather than your kids, there is nothing to stop you from doing so.
If you intend to specifically disinherit a child your Will should clearly state that you intend to disinherit the child in question, and that their omission from the Will is intentional. There is no need to leave the child One Dollar, or some other nominal amount of money. There is also no need to specify the reason(s) why the child is being disinherited, and in fact it is not a good idea to do so, as it leaves the door open for the child to argue that the reasons stated were invalid. For children who are perceived troublemakers, who the parent fears will sue the Estate and tie things up in Court for years trying to fight the disinheritance, even if they have no grounds to do so, the parent can try the carrot and the stick approach. This involves leaving the child some amount of money that is meaningful to the child, and stating in the Will that if the child contests the Will they will forfeit any amount left to them. If this is done thoughtfully, it often serves as a deterrent to the child causing further trouble, saving the estate and the other beneficiaries time and money in the process.
Whatever the reason, if you choose to disinherit a family member when creating your estate plan, be sure to work with an experienced estate planning attorney who will ensure that the planning is handled properly and the documents are written in such a way that your wishes are carried out.