When an Heir is Disinherited

When an Heir is Disinherited

Cutting Your Kid Sister Out of Mom's Will?

By: Martin M. Shenkman, CPA, MBA, JD

How family members cut others out of a will, the problems with doing so, and the tragedies it creates, are tremendous. Sadly, these are not rare events. It is a human story, not a technical legal discussion.

This is a similar issue to the Brook Astor case, but affects so many people all the time. The stories are so similar. Here's a recent one. A mother left her estate equally to her 3 children. A few years before she passed away, she resigned her will leaving her assets equally to two children and leaving the third child $25,000, a nominal portion of the estate. Just to prove their vindictiveness the two siblings intentionally did not inform their now disinherited sibling about their mother's death.

Why do parents and others change in the last few years? How do they allocate assets often, as if they were almost oblivious to the years or even decades during which they wanted to treat their heirs equally?

These acts, not only create financial havoc, but often the legal costs exceed the amounts in question.

These acts destroy family relationships forever, and embroil all involved in difficult emotional battles.

There are better ways.

  • Wills and estate distributions should never be used as a source of revenge or spite.
  • Encouraging an elderly parent or other benefactor to treat a group unequally, or to disinherit someone, might wind you in the midst of a lawsuit alleging your undue influence of the testatrix, etc.
  • Emotions often run high after the death of a parent. So often, feelings held in check while a parent or other was alive pour out following death. Rash or angry often prove regrettable later.
  • If a parent or other benefactor whishes to leave assets unequally, there are many ways which this can often be accomplished with less obvious or harsh appearances.
  • If a child or other expected or natural heir is to be left out, there is almost invariably, a desire to understand why. Instead of stonewalling them, endeavor to be compassionate, and help them address and understand what happened. In many cases, dealing with these questions and issues may diffuse an otherwise volatile situation.

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