Should You Disinherit a Child?

Sometimes a parent chooses to intentionally disinherit one or more of their children. There may be what the parent considers to be legitimate reasons, such as if one child has been more financially successful than the others, or not wanting a special needs child to lose government benefits, or not wanting to leave an inheritance to an irresponsible or drug-dependent child. (There are viable alternatives to disinheriting in these situations.) And sometimes a parent wants to disinherit a child who is estranged from the family, or use disinheriting as a way to get even and have the last word.

Regardless of the reason, disinheriting a child is hurtful, permanent, and will undoubtedly affect that child’s relationship with his or her siblings. Courts are full of siblings who sue each other over inheritances but even if they don’t sue, it is highly unlikely they will be having holiday dinners together. Finances aside, there is symbolic meaning to receiving something from a parent’s estate.

How you choose to include your children in your estate plan says a good deal about your values and your faith. Not disinheriting a child who has caused you grief and heartache can convey a message of love and forgiveness, while disinheriting a child, even for what seems to be good cause, can convey a lack of love, anger, and resentment.

If your decision to disinherit a child is final, it should be included in your estate plan. It’s a good idea to tell your child so it doesn’t come as a complete surprise. Explaining your reasons personally will allow for honest discussion, and may keep the child from blaming siblings or contesting your will or trust. If you have a change of heart, be sure to change your plan immediately.