The Painful Legal Path to Disinheritance in Virginia

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Disinheriting someone can be a way to haunt a family member from beyond the grave, but there may be pragmatic reasons involved.

When it comes to estate planning, most people focus on the distribution of their assets to heirs … but some are more concerned with not distributing assets to certain heirs. If you are among them, be forewarned that disinheritance, for whatever reasons, can lead to hurt feelings and even contentious legal battles.

A recent article from Reuters, “Disinheriting someone is not easy,” illustrates some of the many reasons people choose not to leave assets to certain heirs. The reasons are as varied as the assets involved, and may include anything from hard feelings within a family to a desire to "equalize" wealth among adult children with differing degrees of financial success. 

If you choose to disinherit someone, realize that some classes of heirs have legal rights that cannot be violated, such as spouses and minor children. Reuters explains it well:

Just as you cannot tell a divorce judge that you refuse to split assets or pay alimony, you cannot leave your surviving spouse's house and all of the money to a child or some other family member. Using language to disavow and disinherit your spouse will not help …  the spouse can waive the will and receive whatever he or she is entitled to under state law. Minor children are also protected by the courts. Whatever financial support the minor is entitled to receive, he or she will get, assuming the money is available.

Regardless of the reason(s) you may have to disinherit someone, be sure to discuss them with your estate planning attorney. Properly drafted legal documents can help ensure your wishes are followed, as well as prevent unintended consequences such as hurt feelings or court battles. Simply put, “disinheritance” is not necessarily an ugly word, but it can turn ugly even when you do it for the right reasons if not done properly.

You can learn more about this topic as well as other strategies on our website under the tab entitled: estate planning in Virginia. Be sure you also sign up for our complimentary e-newsletter so that you may be informed of all the latest issues that could affect you, your loved ones and your estate planning.

Reference: Reuters (January 31, 2013) “Disinheriting someone is not easy

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