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Unraveling the Mystery: Can You Challenge Disinheritance?

challenging disinheritance

Unraveling the Mystery: Can You Challenge Disinheritance?

Disinheritance is deliberately excluding someone from receiving an inheritance from a deceased person’s estate. This can be accomplished using a will or trust document. The individual who produces the document, also known as the testator or grantor, can leave their property to whoever they want, as long as it is legal. Again, this can be done through a will or trust document.

A person may choose to disinherit someone for a variety of reasons. For example, they may have fallen out with the person or feel that the person does not deserve the inheritance. However, the reason for disinheriting someone cannot be for reasons that are discriminatory or violate the law.  

In a fictional case example,  John created a will that disinherited his son, Tom, because of their falling out years ago. Tom was shocked to learn that he would not inherit anything from his father’s estate.

Celebrity example: In 2018, celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain passed away, leaving behind an estate worth approximately $1.2 million. However, his will revealed that he disinherited his only child, Ariane because he believed she would be financially secure without his inheritance.

Reasons for Being Disinheritedchallenging disinheritance

There are a variety of reasons why someone might be disinherited. These can include:

  • Estrangement or family conflict: If there has been a serious falling out between family members, one party may choose to disinherit the other.
  • Financial irresponsibility: If someone has a history of mismanaging money or making poor financial decisions, a family member may disinherit them to protect their assets.
  • Substance abuse or addiction: If a family member has a history of drug or alcohol abuse, another family member may disinherit them to avoid enabling their addiction.
  • Inappropriate behavior: If someone has engaged in conduct considered morally or socially unacceptable, such as committing a crime, they may be disinherited.

Here’s a  fictional example: Sarah was disinherited by her father, who left his estate to her stepmother. Sarah had no idea that her father planned to disinherit her and was left without financial support.

Celebrity example: In 2007, American businesswoman Leona Helmsley passed away, leaving behind an estate worth approximately $4 billion. She disinherited two of her four grandchildren, stating in her will that they “have never been anything but trouble.” The disinherited grandchildren contested the will, and the court ultimately awarded them $6 million each.

Impact on Your Financial Security

Being disinherited can have a significant impact on your financial security. Being disinherited can be a severe blow if you rely on an inheritance to pay for future expenses or fund your retirement. Depending on the size of the estate, being disinherited can also mean losing out on a significant amount of money or property.

Estate Planning Strategies

One common strategy is to create a trust that will distribute your assets to your beneficiaries over time rather than all at once. This can help ensure that your assets are managed responsibly and will be available to your heirs for many years.
Another strategy is establishing a living trust, which allows you to transfer ownership of your assets to the trust while you are still alive. This can help to protect your assets from creditors and lawsuits, as well as from the possibility of being disinherited.

Can disinheritance be challenged?

Disinheritance can be legally challenged in certain circumstances. For example, if the person disinherited can prove that the will or trust document was created under duress or undue influence, they may be able to contest it. When someone uses their position of power to persuade the testator into modifying their will or trust, this is called undue influence. If the will or trust document was not correctly executed, it might be deemed invalid if it was unsigned or not witnessed per state law. Seeking counsel from an attorney can be immensely beneficial, as their expertise can guide you through complex legal processes, protect your interests, and help you make informed decisions, thereby enhancing the chances of a favorable outcome.

Another potential challenge to disinheritance is the concept of a pretermitted heir. A pretermitted heir is not included in the will or trust document but is legally entitled to an inheritance. This could consist of a child born after the will was created or a spouse married to the testator at their death. In some states, pretermitted heirs are entitled to a share of the estate, regardless of whether or not they were intentionally disinherited.

What if a person is not mentioned in the will?challenging disinheritance

The intestacy laws may entitle a person who was omitted in a will to a claim on the estate. Intestacy is the legal process determining how a person’s property is distributed when they die without a will or if their intention is invalid. Each state has laws determining who is entitled to inherit from an estate when there is no will. As state laws may differ from state to state, intestacy laws usually prioritize spouses and children over other relatives. However, if the individual not listed in the will is the deceased’s child or spouse, they may be entitled to a share of the inheritance, even if they were purposefully disinherited.

What are other disinheritance challenges?

In addition to the challenges mentioned above, other potential issues can arise with disinheritance. One common problem is that the will or trust document may need to be more specific about the testator’s wishes. For example, if the document states that a particular person is disinherited without providing any reasoning or explanation, it may be subject to challenge.

Another issue is that the testator may have promised property or assets to someone during their lifetime but failed to include that promise in their will or trust. Again, this can lead to disputes between beneficiaries and potential heirs.

Check the will’s validity

If you believe that you need to be correctly disinherited, the first step is to check the validity of the will or trust document. Next, an estate planning attorney can review the document and any supporting evidence demonstrating that it may have been created under duress or undue influence. An estate planning attorney can provide crucial assistance in a disinheritance case. They can help navigate complex legalities, ensuring the disinheritance meets legal requirements. They also provide valuable counsel on the potential ramifications and strategies for avoiding disputes or litigation.

Negotiate with beneficiaries

If there is a dispute over disinheritance, it may be possible to negotiate with the other beneficiaries to reach a compromise. This could involve agreeing to a smaller share of the estate or exchanging property or assets in exchange for giving up any claims to the inheritance. An estate planning attorney can prove invaluable when negotiating with beneficiaries in disinheritance scenarios. They can facilitate clear communication, mediate disputes, and ensure all parties’ rights are upheld, steering the proceedings toward an equitable resolution.

Do I need an attorney if I have been disinherited?

If you have been disinherited and believe you may have a claim to the estate, you should consult an estate planning attorney. An attorney can help you review the will or trust document, determine your legal rights, and advise you on the best action. In addition, an attorney can represent you in court if needed and help you navigate the complex legal issues of challenging disinheritance.

In conclusion, disinheritance can be a complex issue, and to better understand your legal rights, an estate planning attorney can assist you if somebody disinherited you. By working with an experienced estate planning attorney, you can ensure that your interests are protected and that you have someone who has your best interests in mind.

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