Attorney & Mediator
Attorney & Mediator

Should You Disinherit a Child?

Commonly, parents leave their estates equally to their children.  However, there are instances where parents intentionally choose to leave a child out.  There may be good reason for doing so.  One of the children is very successful and appears not to need any additional assets.  Another child is special needs and it is important to make certain they do not lose their government benefits.  There is the child who is financially irresponsible or may be drug-dependent.  Finally, there is the child who is estranged from the family.

Should these children be disinherited?  There are certainly arguments on both sides of this question.  It should be remembered that totally disinheriting a child will be permanent and can affect his or her relationship with siblings and other family members for a lifetime.   There is something symbolic about receiving something from a parent or grandparent’s estate that has nothing to do with the actual value of the asset.

Hurt feelings and slights are the real reason behind many painful and expensive court battles over inheritances.  Even if a lawsuit is not filed, siblings may be forever estranged. While in the end, after careful analysis, it may be decided that disinheriting is the appropriate option, it should be noted that there are other solutions.

The child who is financially successful today may have trouble in the future.  He or she could face financial ruin, or divorce.  Illness can financially wipe out a successful family. 

If a child is disinherited, so will his or her children.  If you are disinheriting a child, consideration should be made concerning the grandchildren.

Children who are physically, mentally or developmentally disabled may well be entitled to government benefits that would be at risk if they received an inheritance.  The alternative is to provide for this loved one with a special needs trust that will supplement but not interfere with government benefits, in much the same way as you would if you were alive.

The child who is irresponsible with money or is under the influence of drugs or alcohol may not be the ideal candidate to receive an inheritance of any size. Keep in mind that this child may need financial help now or in the future.  He or she may even become a responsible adult. Instead of disinheriting the child, you may want to establish a trust.  The trustee can be given discretion in providing or withholding financial assistance.  It is possible to stipulate conditions and requirements for the child to meet in order to receive distributions.

Choosing to disinherit a child – even if he or she has caused grief and heartache can send a message of no love, anger and resentment.  If you have previously disinherited a child and you have since reconciled, update your plan immediately.

If you have made the decision to disinherit a child, consider telling him or her of your decision and why.  In this way, it will not come as a complete surprise. Hopefully, by having this very difficult conversation, the child will not blame siblings later and it may eliminate an expensive court battle.