Parents with estranged adult children: An unfortunate situation that our attorneys see increasingly often these days. Sometimes parents and their adult child have not spoken in years. Sometimes the child will stay in touch with siblings or other family members; sometimes not. It is not unusual for rejected parents to tell us they have no idea of why they’ve been rejected. Emotions range from bewilderment, to anger, to acceptance and relief at no longer having to cope with a painful relationship.
If this describes your family situation, you may be thinking about cutting your adult child out of your estate plan. Clients frequently ask us if they are legally allowed to do this. The answer is yes. Under Florida law, you are under no obligation to leave adult children anything, nor to leave your children equal shares.
Parents don’t necessarily disinherit an adult child to punish them. They may not want to reduce the inheritances of other children with whom they enjoy a good relationship. Whatever the motivation, cutting out an estranged child from your estate plan is a obviously a serious, and often agonizing decision. But there is a ray of light in it all: As long as you are competent, you can always change your plan to include your child in the event that you and your child reconcile.
Six Tips For Your Estate Plan
If you decide to disinherit your child, it is important to understand that the less information he/she has about your plans, the better for you and your other beneficiaries. In line with that principle, here are some specific tips on how to proceed.
- Always mention your child in your estate plan. Note that you are not leaving him anything and that he is not a beneficiary. Also indicate if you are cutting out that child’s children. This will neutralize any estate challenge he or his children might launch alleging you overlooked them.
- While your plan should acknowledge his existence, you should not state the reasons for disinheriting him. This will give your disinherited child information on which he could build an estate challenge. Less is more.
- Forget the old-fashioned notion that you should mention the child in your will or trust and state you are leaving him only $1. Despite the tiny sum, making him a beneficiary gives him certain rights. If he is angry over being effectively disinherited, he can leverage those rights to bog down the estate administration process and prevent your other beneficiaries from getting their inheritances in a timely way.
- A living trust has advantages over a will if you wish to disinherit an adult child. A trust is a private document. If it has been properly drafted, executed and funded, your trustee will be able to administer your estate without court involvement. A will, on the other hand, must be submitted to the probate court, and then becomes a matter of public record. The probate process therefore makes it easier for a disgruntled child to launch an estate challenge. Another workaround to keep your estate out of probate is to pass your assets through beneficiary designations, but this may not be possible with certain assets, and if the beneficiary predeceases you, there may still be probate.
- If you have no plan – in other words, die intestate – your estate will end up in probate court. As mentioned above, probate is a public process. But there is another downside to this scenario: Florida intestacy law will determine who gets your probatable assets. That law is based solely on bloodline. For example, if you have no spouse and three children when you pass away intestate, all three of your children will get an equal share – including the adult child you might have preferred get nothing.
- Disinheriting a child can be as agonizing in its own way as being rejected by your child. Many parents, after discussing it with us, decide they want to leave their estranged child “a little something” and would like to do this by making the child the sole death beneficiary of a particular account or asset. Generally speaking, we don’t recommend that, as those funds can be used to finance estate litigation challenging your estate plan.
Our attorneys are available to talk over this sensitive matter with you. We are good listeners and can make recommendations on the best legal options to accomplish your goals. Schedule a consultation with us by calling (561) 625-1100.