The Complex Issues of Disinheritance

April 10, 2012

Delineating what family members, friends, and charities will inherit after one's death is a large part of New York estate planning. However, intrinsic in the process is also distinguishing who will not receive any part of one's estate. Disinheritance is therefore just as much a part of the process as anything else. There are many high-profile stories of wealthy families who have children intentionally ignored in the inheritance process.

Perhaps the most well-known example involves "Mommie Dearest," Joan Crawford, who disinherited her children "for reasons known to them."

However, the issues involved affect all families, not just the rich. An MSNBC story last month touched on some of the complex motivations woven into disinheritance.

The story emphasizes that the reasons for disinheritance are long and they "can be spurred by hurt, spite, fear...or because the head of the family estate feels the heirs are 'manifestly unsuitable' to manage the estate." The situation is perhaps a bit more intentional for families that have businesses, farms, or other large legacies to leave behind. Many residents have spent their lives building an estate and may rightly want to ensure that the work is not squandered by a child who may not be capable of properly handling things.

However, in many cases there are ways for residents to use legal tools to both protect an estate without completely disinheriting a child. For example, our New York estate planning lawyers often help families create trusts that have income-only provisions. A trustee can also be named to monitor a child's behavior. These often protect a business or other parts of an estate while still providing some support to an heir.

Of course there are many other reasons for disinheritance that may not be driven by any malice or ill-will. One child may be perceived as not needing the money, and so they could be left out of a will in favor of another child with more pressing needs. However, these sorts of issues often have unintended consequences on a family dynamic. As the story explains, "the shame and the reality about the situation is that the [person disinherited] may really need the inheritance and just hasn't been open about his situation." This is yet another reason why local residents should seek the counsel of an experienced estate planning attorney who has likely encountered these issues in the past and who can provide guidance on potential implications of various inheritance decisions.

See Our Related Blog Posts:

High-Profile Example Highlights Need for Clarity in the Estate Planning Process

New York Estate Planning Attorney Shares Common Estate Planning Mistakes