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When is Disinheriting a Child a Mistake?

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By Patrick J. Kelleher, Esq. ELDERLAWCARE.COM

Most parents choose to treat their children equally when it comes to inheriting property or money. But sometimes parents intentionally choose not to leave anything to a child, and the reasons for doing so may vary. One reason could be that one child is more financially successful than the others, and the parent doesn’t feel it’s necessary to leave anything.

Another reason may be a desire to prevent a child with special needs from losing government benefits. Or a parent may not want to leave an inheritance to an irresponsible or drug-dependent child for fear the inheritance will be wasted.

Regardless of the reason, disinheriting a child can negatively affect that child’s relationship with his or her siblings. The courts are full of siblings who sue each other over inheritances, but even if they don’t sue, it is highly unlikely they will be a close family unit. Money aside, there is symbolic meaning to receiving something from a parent’s estate.

Disinheriting a child for what may seem to be a valid reason may actually be completely unnecessary. For example:

  • A child who appears to be more successful financially may have trouble behind the scenes. The child may not be as well off as he or she appears. Finances can change, marriages can collapse, and people can become ill. And unless specific provision is made for them, grandchildren from this child will also be disinherited.
  • A spouse, child, sibling, parent or other loved one who is physically, mentally, or developmentally disabled—from birth, illness, injury, or even substance abuse—may be entitled to government benefits, now or in the future. And if that loved one is receiving government benefits that are need-based, please know you do not have to disinherit this person. A special needs trust can be carefully designed to supplement and not jeopardize benefits provided by local, state, federal or private agencies.
  • A 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 in a lump sum. Instead of disinheriting the child, you can establish a trust and give the trustee discretion in providing or withholding financial assistance. You can dictate any requirements you want the child to meet before receiving funds, and you can choose a trustee who will make sure that child receives funds under the appropriate circumstances.

How we choose to include our children in our estate plans has lasting effects, both positive and negative. Choosing not to disinherit a child who has caused grief and heartache sends a message of love and forgiveness, while disinheriting a child, even for what seems to be good cause, can convey a lack of love, and indicate anger and resentment.

If you have previously disinherited a child and you have since reconciled, update your plan immediately. If you wish to disinherit a child, it may be wise to tell that child and explain the reasons why. Doing so may help deter the child from blaming siblings later and may prevent a costly court battle.

Regardless of your desires about how you want to leave an inheritance to your children, grandchildren, or other loved ones, we can help. Give us a call to schedule time for a private conversation about your wishes, and we will make sure they are properly documented.

To learn more, watch our next free educational virtual on-demand estate planning and elder law webinar at www.elderlawcare.com.

Call our Elder Law Care Center NOW at 781-871-7526 to register for our next free educational elder law workshop. When you attend the workshop, you will receive a $500 coupon to use in your initial meeting with one of our elder law attorneys (available for a limited time).

Attorney Patrick J. Kelleher

About the Author. Patrick Kelleher is an author and Estate Planning & Elder Law attorney and founder of the Elder Law Care Learning Center in Hanover, Massachusetts. Patrick has been teaching free educational workshops for over 10 years at his learning center and in surrounding communities. Learn more at elderlawcare.com or follow Patrick Kelleher on Facebook because you will learn a lot!  Offices in Hanover and Quincy. You can find Patrick’s new book “How to Avoid the Four Headed Monster” of Estate Planning & Elder Law on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/How-Avoid-Four-Headed-Monster-Financial-ebook/dp/B084MB96SK

 

 

 

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