Can a person disinherit their child?

The topic of inheritance, and in this case disinheritance, can be a very touchy subject for California families. It is generally believed that when a person dies their assets and property will pass to a spouse and if they do not have a spouse then their assets and wealth will pass to their kids. This is the usual pattern of events if a person dies intestate (without a will). If a person has a will, though, they can take an active role in who does and does not have rights to their post-death estate.

Generally, children do not automatically have a right to collect from their parents' estates. This is not the same for spouses. In community property states like California, a person owns one-half of what they jointly own with their partner, and to this end a decedent cannot give away something through their will that is also owned by their spouse. Children, however, do not have this joint ownership interest in property by virtue of their relationships with their parents.

In order to make it clear that a parent does not want one of their children to receive assets through their estate they may explicitly set forth their intentions in their testamentary documents. They may name one child as their heir and beneficiary and disclaim the other to make their intentions clearly known.

Creating a will or other device that disinherits a child should be done with caution and care. It can be useful for a person who wishes to incorporate such a term into their will to discuss their desires with their estate planning attorney to ensure that the language used to spell out their wants is clear and will stand up to challenges made by the disinherited child.

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