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Can I Disinherit a Son or Daughter?

Lewis & Van Sickle, LLC June 18, 2024

Family With Adult Children Having ArgumentWhile disinheriting a child is one of the most difficult and emotional decisions you may face while planning your estate, you should know that you have the right to do so. 

But is it legally possible to disinherit a child? And if so, how does one go about doing it? Here, we will explore the concept of disinheritance and its legal implications in Wisconsin. 

Understanding Disinheritance

Disinheritance is the act of intentionally excluding someone from your will, thereby preventing them from receiving any portion of your estate in the event of your death.  

Disinheritance can be a complex and sensitive process, requiring explicit and unambiguous language in your will to clearly state your intentions to exclude a son or daughter. It is not enough to simply omit their name; some jurisdictions may automatically grant a portion of the estate to your children if they are not explicitly disinherited.  

An experienced estate planning attorney is needed to make a legally sound, iron-clad will that reflects your true wishes, and it is difficult to contest in court. 

Reasons for Disinheritance

There can be several reasons why a parent might choose to disinherit a child, including: 

  • Strained relationships: Ongoing conflicts or estrangement can lead to the decision to disinherit. 

  • Financial irresponsibility: Concerns about how a child might manage an inheritance can influence this choice. 

  • Unequal distribution: A parent may feel that one child has already received enough support or resources during their lifetime. 

  • Personal preferences: Sometimes, personal beliefs or values can play a role in the decision to disinherit. 

Legal Considerations for Disinheritance

Disinheriting a child is not as simple as leaving them out of your will. To ensure that your wishes are honored, you must follow certain legal steps and consider potential challenges. 

Clear Intent 

Your will must clearly state your intent to disinherit a specific child. Ambiguous language can lead to legal disputes and challenges to the will's validity. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you draft a will that leaves no room for doubt. 

State Laws 

Each state has its own laws governing disinheritance. Some states have protections in place for children, particularly minor children, which can complicate the process. Understanding state laws is necessary to create a legal and valid disinheritance plan. 

Disinheritance Laws in Wisconsin

Wisconsin gives parents the right to disinherit their adult children.  However, there are specific laws and considerations to be aware of: 

Minor Children 

Wisconsin law requires that minor children be provided for in a will. This means that while you can disinherit an adult child, you must still make provisions for any minor children you have. This could include setting up a trust or appointing a guardian to manage their inheritance until they reach adulthood. 

Contesting the Will 

Disinherited children who feel the disinheritance was unjust, may contest the will. They might argue that you were unduly influenced or lacked the mental capacity to make such a decision. To minimize the risk of a successful challenge, it is vital to have a well-documented and legally sound will. 

How to Legally Disinherit a Child

If you have decided to disinherit a child, you must take the following steps to ensure that your wishes are followed: 

1. Consult with an estate planning attorney: A knowledgeable estate planning attorney can provide expert guidance on the legal requirements and help you draft a will that clearly expresses your intent to disinherit. 

2. Clearly state your intent: Your will should explicitly state that you are intentionally disinheriting the specified child. Avoid vague language that could lead to misunderstandings or legal challenges. 

3. Consider alternatives: If you are concerned about the potential fallout from disinheritance, consider alternative options, such as leaving a small inheritance or setting up a trust with specific conditions. 

4. Communicate your decision: While not legally required, communicating your decision to disinherit directly with the affected child can prevent surprises and reduce the likelihood of a contested will. This conversation, though difficult, can provide closure and clarity. 

5. Regularly update your will: Circumstances change, and so might your relationship with the disinherited child. Regularly reviewing and updating your will ensures that it reflects your current wishes and any changes in the law. 

Contact an Estate Planning and Probate Attorney in Green Bay, Wisconsin

At Lewis & Van Sickle, LLC, we understand that estate planning is personal and often challenging. We will help you create a plan that aligns with your wishes and protects your family's future. 

With over two decades of legal experience, Jim has represented clients in 25 Wisconsin counties and both Wisconsin Federal District Courts. Jim is a strong and compassionate advocate who works hard to improve his clients' lives and build a brighter future for them and their families. He listens carefully and provides helpful options. 

If you are considering disinheritance or have other estate planning needs, call us so we can create a plan that ensures your wishes are honored and your loved ones are protected.