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Can you disinherit a family member with careful estate planning?

On Behalf of | Jun 2, 2021 | Estate Planning

Estate planning is a process that involves making unpleasant decisions for your own security and the protection of the people you love. Few financial decisions can be as heartbreaking and difficult as the determination to exclude someone from your last will. Disinheriting a family member who might feel entitled to an inheritance can be a difficult decision and one that puts the estate at risk of a challenge.

Sometimes, it is a bad relationship that leads someone to decide that they don’t want to leave any of their property for one of their family members. Other times, it is behavior on the part of the possible heir, like a gambling addiction or substance abuse problem, that makes a testator believe disinheritance is necessary. Can you leave out a family member from your last will in New York?

With the right steps, you can disinherit a child

Maybe your original estate plan included instructions to divide your property evenly among all your children, and now you need to make changes. Maybe you’ve never even drawn up a last will, and it is the issue with your child that leads to you wanting a written last will because they will inherit under intestate succession laws.

Provided that you are explicit in your documents about your intention to include other family members but not the specific individual, you can disinherit a child under New York law. Children do not have a statutory right of inheritance unless someone dies without a last will.

Telling your family members about your intentions and including the details of why you chose to disinherit someone in the last will or in a letter attached to it can reduce the likelihood of the disinherited child challenging your wishes in court.

You cannot disinherit a spouse

Unlike children, spouses still married to someone who dies have a statutory right of inheritance. They are the primary recipients if someone dies without a last will in most cases and can claim a certain amount of the estate even if their spouse tries to write them out of it.

The more unique your needs are during estate planning, the more important it is to understand the state law and to draft customized estate documents that will help uphold your wishes after you die.