You haven’t spoken for years with one of your adult children. Maybe they made a series of bad decisions you couldn’t condone. Perhaps you just never got along, and they cut ties when they were old enough. The reasons for parent-child estrangement are endless.
Before you decide to leave your child nothing in your estate plan, it’s wise to consider alternatives and ways to mitigate consequences that could cost your other heirs time, stress and money.
Alternatives to disinheritance
If you fear your child will squander any inheritance on frivolous or dangerous items, like illegal substances, you can set up a trust. Often called “spendthrift” or “conditional” trusts, they’re managed by a trustee who controls how funds are disbursed to the beneficiary – typically based on instructions from the trustor.
These conditions need to be things like going into recovery and finishing college. Provisions regarding marriage, religion and political affiliation won’t hold up. You can give your trustee power of appointment to “re-inherit” a child if they turn their life around. This is a significant power, so it needs to be used wisely.
Some people choose to leave an adult child or other family member a very small amount – even as small as $1, to show they didn’t forget to include them. This might sound cruel, but it can prevent a person from contesting the will. Another option might be to leave them something of purely sentimental value, like a piece of costume jewelry or toy from your own childhood they always liked.
Avoiding a will contest
Your child could still contest the will, so you may want to consider a no-contest clause. This won’t prevent someone from going to court, especially if they have no inheritance to lose and have the money to spend on legal fees. However, it lessens the chance they’ll win.
Another way to avoid a will contest – and give your child some closure — is to leave an explanation of the disinheritance. It shouldn’t be a list of everything your child did to disappoint you, but something that will help them understand your decision and let them know it was yours and no one else’s.
If you’re considering disinheriting a child, grandchild or another family member, it’s wise to be aware of possible alternatives and to fully understand the possible ramifications of that decision.