Occasionally clients will state that they want to leave a natural object of their affection (spouse, child or someone else) out of their will. This is always a touchy subject and one that must be approached with some sensitivity. What is the reason behind this desire? Is there a well-known and obvious reason for this decision? Is it retaliation? Is it likely to cause a will contest and if so, is the client prepared for his or her estate to be depleted by litigation?
Many times the reason for leaving someone out of a will is logical. Perhaps one child is receiving a disproportionate share of the estate through an IRA or life insurance policy that is passing outside the will. Or perhaps the child received an advance on their inheritance in order to start a business or pay off debts. In other cases the reason for leaving the person out of a will is because of an offense against the client or a perceived slight. Or perhaps the person married someone the client doesn’t think they should have married.
But as Michelle Singletary writes in the Dallas Morning News of October 12, 2016, the disinherited person can often perceive that action as a statement of love being withheld. Or of mom showing she really did love him better than me. In most cases I have seen, that is seldom the case regardless of how many disinherited children may believe otherwise.
How should this be handled to minimize bad feelings? First, the client’s true reason for taking this action needs to be determined. It’s possible the client thinks this is the only way to prevent a particular outcome (for example, inheritance eventually going to or being controlled by undesirable spouse of an adult child) when in fact some other means (for example, a trust) might resolve the issue without the drastic disinheritance. Or perhaps just having a family meeting explaining client’s estate plans and reasons to all family members will resolve bad blood. In other cases some of the children may refuse to listen to mom and dad or may cause disruption immediately. While that is not an enjoyable situation, it may be easier to deal with while mom and dad are still alive rather than later when they are not available to tell their story.
Bottom line there are many things an estate planning attorney can suggest to minimize poor results from these situations. But if you don’t have such a meeting or fail to provide all the background for the decision to your attorney, the result may be something no one wants. Contact your estate planning attorney for help if you face a similar situation in your estate planning.