Writing family members out of a will requires tact

A recent news story focused on a California woman who was preparing her will and deciding how to split her earthly possessions amongst her four children. Ultimately, she decided that she would exclude one of her children from receiving any inheritance. Of course, excluding a child from a will can sometimes be easier said than done.

In this case it was not out of spite or anger, it was a practical decision because she considered this particular daughter well-off and would rather leave a larger distribution to her other family members who were not doing as well financially. Well-intentioned as the decision may have been, people often do not realize the biting emotional consequences that the terms of a will can have on surviving family members.

When a loved one dies and family are left to grieve, with only a static document there to guide and console them, the language of the will can take on a deeply emotional significance. Unfortunately, many people consider the size of their distribution in the will as an indication of how much the deceased loved and valued them. When somebody feels jaded, the result can be an arduous court battle.

This is why the words one chooses in a will can be so significant. A will needs to direct, explicitly and unambiguously, to whom and where assets should go, but should never use harsh or biting words to disinherit a family member. Harsh words can be enough to trigger an emotional firestorm that leads an angry survivor to wage a war of emotions over property they may not even particularly care about. Drafting a will can be complex, but with the help of an experienced estates and trusts attorney, people can ensure that their assets are distributed to their heirs according to the testator's intent.

Source: CNBC, "How to Disinherit Loved Ones-And Which You Can't," Feb. 1, 2013

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