Life often brings difficult decisions, and there few more difficult for parents than choosing to disinherit a child in their will. While Texas does grant parents the right to disinherit their adult children, the choice has risks. Writing a child out of your will can increase the chance that your estate will face a lawsuit and can damage family relationships. However, sometimes disinheritance, no matter how hard, is a practical necessity.
Reasons for Disinheritance
Disinheriting a child in a will is not an especially rare occurrence. However, the reasons people choose to write a child out of a will differ substantially. They include:
- The child has alternate arrangements. Sometimes, a child may have already received an inheritance from a grandparent, or they may be covered by a lucrative life insurance policy. In such instances, a mother or father may not want their child to receive a large amount of money or assets from two different sources.
- The child is self-sufficient. If an adult child is wealthy or successful in their own right, a parent may believe it’s better to share a larger portion of their estate with another child who has not done quite as well. Alternatively, parents may decide they simply want to give what they have to charity, since their child does not need additional financial support.
- Estrangement. Parent-child relationships can be challenging, and sometimes there are hard feelings on both sides for any variety of reasons. Perhaps a child didn’t live according to the parent’s expectations; perhaps a parent is angry over the way they perceive they’ve been treated by the child.
- Financial concerns. If a child is reckless with money or has substance abuse problems, it may make sense to write them out of a will to ensure that an inheritance isn’t wasted or spent to support an addiction.
The Risks of Disinheritance
Disinheriting a child carries risks—even when it is done right. A child who has been disinherited may become angry or feel embittered. When a child feels he’s been unfairly treated, there is a greater chance that they’ll contest the will in probate court. Even if they may not have a high chance of success, litigation can be costly and time-consuming. Since an estate executor or administrator is required by law to defend the estate against challenges, it is possible a will contest could drain the estate’s financial resources, leaving little left over for legitimate heirs.
The other significant risk of disinheritance is its impact on family relations. Even if a child is self-sufficient and does not really need additional assets, they may feel short-changed or unappreciated. These hard feelings might continue to strain relations even after a parent has passed away. For example, a disinherited child written out of a will may harbor a grudge against a sibling or cousin who received assets they believed would be theirs.
It is important to weigh the perceived necessity of writing a child out of the will with the legal and personal consequences of doing so.
Disinheriting a Child
The best way to disinherit a child is by adding a clear and unambiguous provision to your will. This provision should be straightforward and explain that the testator has made an intentional decision to omit their child from any inheritance. There should also be a reason for doing so. If it is possible, the child should also be informed that they are being disinherited.
Being precise is important because the probate court may be inclined to believe the omission of a child was an oversight. In general, probate will assume that parents want their children to receive some sort of inheritance. Consequently, an attorney may be able to persuade a probate judge that the disinherited child not mentioned in the will was accidental.
An experienced estate planning attorney can strengthen your estate plan to help ensure a child left out of the will is less able to pursue a successful legal action against your estate.
Mitigating the Risks of Disinheritance
Before moving ahead with the decision to disinherit, testators are often offered alternative solutions by their attorneys. A parent might be able reduce the risk to their estate and family stability by:
- Offering a small cash gift instead of what would have been promised in the will
- Bequeathing a personal gift with sentimental value
- Establishing a trust to ensure that funds cannot be misused
If a parent wants to provide for the child but has concerns about how their money or assets may be used, a revocable living trust could provide an ideal solution. A trust is a form of legal arrangement in which a person gives the legal title and control of designated assets to a second person, known as a trustee. In some instances, the founder of the trust and the trustee can be the same person. However, a parent would have to choose a successor trustee to take over once they die.
Trusts are not cost-prohibitive, and they are far more flexible than wills. A parent with a revocable living trust could write in a provision stating that their child receive disbursement only for education or medical expenses. Trusts are also not subject to probate, which reduces the possibility of a successful challenge.
Contact Us Today
Whether you are considering disinheriting a child or have already done so, our experienced team of Texas estate planning attorneys is ready to help. Contact us online, call us, or visit one of our locations in Dallas, Collin, or Denton county to schedule your free initial consultation.