Disinheriting a Child or Grandchild

With Halloween behind us, it’s time to look forward to the holiday season. As North Texans, we may not be able to reap the benefits of a long, chilly and colorful fall, but it’s finally starting to cool down. That means we can bust out those boots and scarves, appropriately drink a pumpkin spice latte, and start making plans to spend time with family. Thanksgiving may be your first chance in months to gather with loved ones to catch up and overstuff your bellies. It is also an excellent time to think about planning for the future.

Having a will gives you the peace of mind that if today is your last day, you’re prepared. A will puts the distribution of your assets in your hands instead of the state statutes, and ensures that your property and other belongings will go to the people of your choosing. This could include your spouse, children, grandchildren, out of wedlock children, stepchildren, siblings or even friends. If you are a parent or a grandparent, it is often important for you to make sure your will takes care of your children and grandchildren.

While reuniting over turkey, you may notice that some loved ones have changed, and not for the better. Maybe they have made some irresponsible life choices or you are just reminded of their bad habits. Whatever the reason, sometimes you change your mind about who you want to include in your will.

Deciding to Disinherit

In Texas and many other states, you can legally disinherit an adult child or grandchild. To disinherit someone is to intentionally prevent them from receiving property from your estate after you die. The decision to disinherit a child or grandchild can be emotionally trying and can be legally difficult to do.  Including someone as a beneficiary in your will is usually done with deep thought and consideration, so the removal should require the same amount of attention. You may initially struggle with the idea of it, so creating a list of reasons can be helpful.

No Right Answer

If you ask a hundred people why they chose to disinherit someone, you’ll probably get a hundred different answers. Each person is unique, which is why there is no guide book to life’s decisions such as this. Here are some tips and guidelines that can be helpful:

  • Avoid using disinheritance as a threat to manipulate someone’s behavior. Little Jimmy may have a drinking problem, but using money to get him to stop is probably not going to work.
  • Don’t use disinheritance as a punishment. Don’t let a temporary tiff or disagreement outweigh the big picture. You can always write them back in, but if you change your will every time there is an argument, it will cost you.
  • Generally, social standards create a reasonable expectation that children will share a parent’s estate equally. But this doesn’t have to be the case. Sometimes you feel one child or grandchild has a greater need than another. If you have a child or grandchild who has a significant financial need due to a disability or other special needs, you may want to leave them a larger portion of your assets. Another possibility is one child has achieved great personal wealth so the inheritance would be of greater benefit to the less wealthy child.
  • People can benefit in different ways. Life insurance is not considered inheritance. Some people choose to leave less inheritance to one person if that person is named as a beneficiary on your life insurance. You may technically be disinheriting someone while still taking care of them.
  • It is not uncommon for feelings to be hurt along the way, but remember, your will is a reflection of your wishes. Be sure to think the decision through. Don’t act hastily. It can cost you unnecessary time, money and stress.

How Do I Disinherit

The best way to disinherit someone may be to add a provision to your will. It is generally advisable to plainly and clearly state your intention to omit the individual. Some people choose to include a specific statement of their intent, such as, “I intentionally leave no provision under this will for my child, Jimmy Smith.” You can also include your reason for disinheritance, such as I adequately provided for my child during their life. It is often a matter of preference.

But there are also good reasons to omit the reason for disinheritance. One may be that it prevents the child or grandchild who is omitted from challenging the disinheritance based on the reason listed. For example, Jimmy Smith could argue that he was not adequately provided for in his life by you. Then it is left to the scrutiny of the courts. Another reason to withhold an explanation for disinheritance is that it could prevent the airing of harsh statements about the individual. The disinheritance speaks for itself.

Keep in mind, a will may not be the only place you need to remove a potential heir. Oftentimes life insurance policies and retirement accounts are overlooked. Having a legal expert help you through the disinheritance process will ensure you have checked every box.

An Alternative to Disinheritance

If you are looking for a less drastic measure than disinheritance, there are other ways to ensure a child or grandchild does not have control over your hard-earned estate but still benefit.

If you are not confident in how the estate would be used by a beneficiary, create a trust so that the child doesn’t have control over it, but rather a reliable individual who acts as the trustee. You can keep your assets in a trust or have their inheritance fund a trust which provides for your children, without actually giving the assets to them.

Factors to Consider

No matter what, you should review your will with your attorney every 3-5 years or when there is a major life change. Major life changes such as births, deaths, marriages and divorces may also result in a desire to change the terms of your will. Our lives are ever-evolving. If you are considering disinheriting someone from your will, you should consult with an experienced estate planning lawyer to walk you through the process and help you accomplish your goals.