In most states, a parent may legally disinherit an adult child. To disinherit someone is to intentionally prevent them from receiving property from your estate after you die. Disinheritance can be accomplished by stating in your will that you do not want your adult child to inherit anything. You may only disinherit someone if you either make a will or have no assets in your estate at the time of your death which would pass under your will or pursuant to your state’s intestate succession laws.
If a parent dies without a will, the laws of the state where the parent resided at the time of death govern how that person’s property will be distributed to his or her heirs at law. This process is known as intestate succession. Generally, the surviving spouse and children are the first persons in line to inherit property from the deceased.
It is Important that Your Intentions Be Made in the Will
As a general rule and a matter of public policy, courts do not favor construing a will to intentionally disinherit a person’s child. Therefore, it is important that the person’s intentions be made clear within the content of the will. Many states have laws providing that if a child is not included in a person’s will, the presumption will arise that the parent inadvertently omitted the child rather than intentionally disinherited that child.
If you desire to disinherit your adult child under your will, then it is generally advisable to include a specific statement of that intention in your will. Otherwise, it may be possible for the child to contest the will by arguing that the parent made an error and that the omission of the child from any mention in the will was merely an oversight.
Options Other than Disinheriting a Child in a Will
As an alternative to disinheriting a child by including specific disinheritance language in a will, a parent may prefer to place some or all of his or her property beyond the reach of an heir by use of a trust. A trust is a legal arrangement where one person gives legal title and control of the designated property to a trustee for the benefit of the persons identified as the beneficiaries of the trust. In most cases, a person who creates a trust can name himself as trustee of the trust and then maintain and control the trust property according to the terms of the trust for the benefit of the named beneficiaries. Once assets have been properly conveyed to a properly drafted and executed trust, those assets would no longer be owned by the person who conveyed them to the trust. Thus, when a parent dies, the assets that were placed in a trust will not generally be subject to probate under a will or the laws of intestate succession if the parent dies without a will.
If you are planning on making your will, you are encouraged to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney in your area who can help you accomplish your intentions with respect to how you wish for your property to pass upon your death or during your lifetime.