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Family estrangement is not nearly as rare as you may think. Throughout the centuries, history, literature, and mythology have been dappled with ungrateful or malicious children who become estranged from their parents. Though most people don’t discuss major tears in their own family fabric, Scientific American reports that a recent study of young adults found that 17 percent were estranged from an immediate family member, often a parent.

While surveys of parents reported that only 12 percent admitted to estrangement from their children, it is likely that parents, who were not typically those who initiated the lack of contact, were less comfortable admitting to it. It is interesting to note that most commonly family estrangements occur between fathers and their offspring.

If you are estranged from your adult child, you may want to disinherit him or her. You have the legal right to do so. Because disinheriting a child is not an easy task, legally or emotionally, you should work closely with an experienced will and estate planning legal team like Merlino & Gonzalez.

What makes disinheriting an adult child challenging?

Disinheriting a child is a common reason for a will being contested, a process which can be prolonged and expensive. That’s why it is essential to contact an experienced, highly skilled estate planning attorney if you want to protect your assets for your designated beneficiaries and prevent unpleasant arguments among family members after your death. You should be aware that nowhere in the U.S. is it legal to disinherit a minor child.

Reasons Parents Want to Disinherit Their Children

Of course, every relationship is unique and the complexities of family interactions cannot be overstated. Nonetheless, behaviors and patterns that lead to disinheritance tend to repeat. Reasons for estrangement and disinheritance are typically linked and include:

  • Aggressive behavior, angry outbursts, violence on the part of the child
  • Alcohol or substance abuse on the part of the child
  • Child’s false accusations of sexual or physical abuse by the parent
  • Financial disputes — money taken from the parent, unrepaid loans, embezzlement from parent’s business, fraudulent use of parent’s credit card
  • Lifestyle choices the parent disapproves of — sexual/marital partners, membership in a cult, engagement in illegal or inappropriate activities, membership, in particular, religious, social or political groups
  • Failure of the child to take proper care of the parent as the parent ages
  • Failure of the child to keep in touch with the parent or to help or contact siblings

It is also possible that the parent has already given the disinherited child large gifts during his or her lifetime and therefore feels the estate should be divided among the other siblings who did not receive such gifts after the parent’s death.

How to Ensure Disinheritance Sticks

According to the usual order of things, children are heirs to their parents’ assets, so disinheriting a child requires specific wording in a will that is definite and unambiguous. Our attorneys will assist you in disinheriting the child to be excluded and, if it is your wish, any descendants of that child.

We recommend doing one or more of the following:

  • Include some short notes or other records that justify your decision
  • Make certain your soundness of mind at the time of signing your will is unquestionable
  • Don’t give a specific reason for the disinheritance that may no longer be true (e.g. a gambling problem that is now in abeyance)
  • Leave a small bequest so that the individual cannot claim she/he was forgotten entirely Include a no-contest clause in your will which, with some exceptions, means that any heir who legally contests the will receives no part of the estate

If you have come to the painful decision to exclude one of your children from your will, our empathic attorneys will assist you by offering excellent legal representation and moral support. Contact us today!